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A Governor’s Veto May Not Protect an Independent Judiciary in North Carolina

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed HB 100 Thursday, March 16, a bill that would make elections for superior and district court judges partisan. Cooper also says the bill makes it harder for independent judicial candidates to get on the ballot.

Candidates running in judicial elections currently are not listed on the ballot with their party affiliation. HB 100 treats the court bench like it is a partisan office akin to governor or a seat in the state legislature by having all candidates run under a party label or as an independent.

In his veto message, Governor Cooper said:

“North Carolina wants its judges to be fair and impartial and partisan politics has no place on the judges’ bench. We need less politics in the courtroom, not more.”

The vote to approve HB 100 fell along partisan lines in the legislature, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. It was no surprise that Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the bill.

Gov. Cooper also argues that the partisan judicial elections under HB 100 make it harder for independent candidates to get on the ballot.

“I am also concerned that judges who have chosen to register as unaffiliated voters so as to avoid partisan politics now have a difficult path to getting on the ballot,” he writes.

HB 100 reduces the amount of time independent judicial candidates have to collect petition signatures to appear on the November ballot. Currently, the deadline is the last Friday in June preceding the general election.

Under HB 100, the deadline is pushed back to the second Wednesday prior to the primary election. In 2016, North Carolina held its primary election for president and state offices in March.

Cooper’s veto may be a short-lived victory for opponents of the bill. Republicans have a super-majority in both chambers of the legislature, meaning an attempt to override the veto that falls along party lines will likely succeed.

Image: North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper / Credit: Evan El-Amin / shutterstock.com