- Associated Press - Sunday, June 25, 2017

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - The chief justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court says voters should decide whether judges should be appointed instead of elected.

The Asheville Citizen Times reports that Chief Justice Mark Martin told the North Carolina Bar Association on Saturday that the General Assembly should put a question on the ballot asking voters whether they should continue choosing judges.

“Let’s step away from ordinary politics and let the people decide whether our judges should be chosen through a merit selection process rather than partisan elections,” Martin said at the association’s annual meeting at the Omni Grove Park Inn.

Lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction. Judges have been elected without their party affiliations listed on the ballot. But after an incumbent Republican state Supreme Court justice lost to a Democrat last November - giving Democrats the majority on the court - the legislature’s Republican majority voted to put party labels on ballots for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals seats.

“The time is now to have this discussion and dialogue,” Martin, a Republican, told reporters after his speech.



Appointing judges based on their qualifications could insulate the courts from politics and improve public trust. An objective review panel, appointed by the governor and legislators, should evaluate potential judges and rate them as well qualified, qualified or not qualified, he said.

He did not specify who he thinks should then make the appointments, other than “an appropriate government authority with accountability to the people.”

Many states give that authority to the governor. In neighboring South Carolina, the Legislature elects judges from among the top three candidates chosen by a review panel made up of legislators and lawyers.

Martin suggests voters then decide whether judges should keep their jobs beyond an initial, appointed term of possibly eight years.

Changing the judicial selection system would require amending the state constitution. The General Assembly would first have to vote overwhelmingly to put the question on the ballot. Previous proposals to do so have failed.

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Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, https://www.citizen-times.com

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