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Do we really need judicial elections?

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Anyone who's ever voted in a judicial election in North Carolina knows the morass of sussing out a candidate's actual positions.

Given that most voters depend on party endorsements and other heuristics to make up their minds, it would seem to make sense for North Carolina to join 19 other states in approving retention referendums for state Supreme Court justices, rather than holding full-fledged campaigns every eight years. You don't know anything about these guys in the first place, so what's the point?

Of course, there's more to it than that.

North Carolina's new law, written and pushed by chamber Republicans, is, naturally, politically motivated. Given voters' general disinterest in judicial elections, in fact, it's basically a surefire way to grant incumbents an easy re-election. More important, it will also strengthen the conservative-leaning justices who are more likely to uphold the questionable legal underpinnings of recent GOP-driven legislation, including the redistricting of Wake County commissioners and school board members, which was done solely to secure Republican seats on those increasingly progressive bodies.

At least one prospective candidate isn't going to take it lying down. On Monday, former N.C. General Assembly staff attorney Sabra Faires, a Supreme Court hopeful in 2016, joined two Wake County voters in challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina's law.

In the complaint filed in Wake County Superior Court that names the N.C. State Board of Elections, its members and executive director Kim Strach as defendants, Faires' lawyers point out that all 19 of the other states with a retention referendum have authorization in their state constitutions for it.

Not so in North Carolina, which says specifically that voters will elect justices, the complaint says.

It's worth noting that Faires—who works for Raleigh firm Bailey & Dixon—once served as chief of staff for former state House co-speaker Richard T. Morgan, a Republican trashed for disloyalty by his GOP colleagues in 2003 for going along with Democrats to install joint speakers in the evenly split House.

The controversial move granted broad redistricting and appointment powers to Morgan and his co-speaker, famously corrupt Democrat Jim Black. There's a messy history here, and it's about to get messier.

Reach the INDY's Triangulator team at triangulator@indyweek.com.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Welcome to Raleigh, Mr. Trump"

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