Back in June, we blogged about the passage of a new law that created “retention elections” for sitting justices on the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Justice Bob Edmunds is the first justice to be affected by this statute’s provisions. Under the new legislation, voters in November 2016 will only decide whether they are “for” or “against” Justice Edmunds’ retention. In other words, the law does not permit a challenger for Justice Edmunds’ seat.
A few weeks ago, an attorney filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court challenging the new law. Sabra Faires, who previously ran for a seat on the Court of Appeals, has alleged that the statute violates the state constitution’s direction that justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.”
Of course, one interesting twist to the lawsuit is that because it challenges the constitutionality of a state law, it will be heard by a panel of three sitting superior court judges. Those three judges will be selected by Mark Martin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Another recent statutory amendment (which we wrote about here) means that an appeal from a decision holding the retention election statute unconstitutional would proceed directly to the Supreme Court. On the other hand, if the three-judge panel upholds the retention election law, any appeal would presumably go to the Court of Appeals first.
We will keep you updated as the lawsuit progresses.