Without statewide consensus, partial judicial remaps advance
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republican lawmakers are advancing fragments of a statewide remapping of North Carolina’s judicial election districts in hopes of passing them before candidate filing for judges begins in just over two weeks.
A House committee voted late Friday to expand a measure approved this week by the Senate that redrew Mecklenburg County judicial districts to include changes in Wake County and two Wilmington-area counties. The same panel also agreed to separate legislation reworking judicial or prosecutorial districts covering more than a dozen other eastern and southern Piedmont counties.
A Senate committee also scheduled a meeting for Monday to consider another judicial district measure.
House and Senate members have studied since last fall potential rewrites of election boundaries for Superior Court and District Court seats, as well as the county groupings for elected district attorneys.
Although the full House approved a statewide plan last October, Republican lawmakers from both chambers have since struggled to agree on the finer details. And some senators have been more inclined to consider doing away with the traditional head-to-head judicial elections, but there’s also no agreement on what should replace them.
Rep. David Lewis, the House Rules Committee chairman considering the legislation Friday, said he anticipated neither a statewide redistricting bill nor a “merit selection” measure would move before this year’s session ends, likely this month.
Rep. Justin Burr, a Stanly County Republican and the chief proponent of statewide redistricting, shepherded changes to the smaller counties in Friday’s committee.
“Rather than the big bite of the apple that we’ve been pushing for, this takes some smaller steps, but it continues to update and modernize and invest in the courts,” Burr said.
The bill addressing Wake County would have District Court judges running in six multimember election districts. Currently all 19 District Court judges run countywide. Wake County also would get two new judgeships by the 2020 elections.
Mecklenburg County would see eight Superior Court districts, up from the current three. The county’s 21 District Court judgeships would fall into those same district boundaries and also no longer would be elected countywide.
Gov. Roy Cooper and fellow Democrats in the legislature have been strongly opposed to this statewide redistricting, accusing Republican of shifting lines to help GOP candidates with more seats on the bench. Some Democrats on the House Rules Committee voted against Friday’s legislation, but their comments were tempered.
Candidate filing for trial-level and appeals court judgeships begins June 18.