MidLaw has sought to be clear about it. Partisan elections of judges is not a good idea.
For a mild-mannered, fence-sitting blog, MidLaw spoke pretty straightforwardly to the point several years ago. It said, “Partisan election of judges has led to assassination plots, cannibals & pirates in NC courts.” To be clearer, I suppose MidLaw might have added, “and, therefore, partisan elections are not good policy.”
Well, somebody was not listening. A bill has been introduced in our General Assembly that would amend the North Carolina Constitution to cut terms of office for all justices and judges to two years. Every two years every judge would be forced to stand for re-election in a partisan election.
Very quickly, North Carolina’s Chief Justice Mark Martin opposed this bill. He said:
Nowhere in America do voters elect their general jurisdiction judges for two-year terms of office. This is as it should be. Electing judges for two-year terms would force judges to campaign and raise money constantly, and would disrupt the administration of justice.
Judicial terms of office are longer than executive and legislative terms of office because judges have a different function. Judges are accountable, first and foremost, to the federal and state constitutions and to the law. They apply the law uniformly, and equal justice under law is the ultimate goal of any court system.
Just as quickly, former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, characterized the bill as
“an effort to intimidate the judiciary” and
“fundamentally a bad policy.”
Neither Chief Justice Martin nor Justice Orr played the cannibalism card. But maybe they made the point better without that.
The separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and the authority of judges to nullify unconstitutional legislation are bedrock principles of American democracy — and North Carolina no less is where those ideas were born.
Separation of powers: good. Independent, merit-selected judges: good. Frequent, partisan elections of judges: not good.