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UPDATED REPORT: NC Legislature Races to Watch 2018

With Democrats in 170 legislative seats, Republicans in 169, and even Libertarians filing in 35 legislative districts, 2018 is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal legislative elections in North Carolina history. And with no race on the ballot above Supreme Court, these elections will get more attention than ever before.

This report combines an analysis of district voting data, national and state polling plus qualitative factors like local issues and relative candidate strength. In total, we think that 35 House races and 13 Senate races are shaping up to have competitive campaigns run by both of the major parties in districts that could conceivably go to either. We have also identified a handful of other races worth keeping an eye on for other reasons.

We’ll look at the 35 House races and 13 Senate races we think will be the most competitive in the fall and a handfull of other races we think will be interesting to watch for other reasons. Read the House report here and the Senate report here

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North Carolina Candidate Profile: Judge Barbara Jackson

In this Real Facts NC Candidate Profile, we turn our attention to the North Carolina Supreme Court and Associate Justice Barbara Jackson. Jackson was elected to the NC Supreme Court in 2010 and is running for re-election this upcoming November. Before becoming an Associate Justice, Jackson was elected as a judge on the NC Court of Appeals and served for six years. Prior to her judgeship, Jackson practiced law for fourteen years, including time as General Counsel to Republican Cherie Berry in the NC Department of Labor and in the office of Republican Governor James G. Martin. Read the full profile of Jackson here.

“We are compelled to exercise judicial restraint and defer to the General Assembly's judgment.” – Jackson in Dickson v. Rucho, on the right of the General Assembly to keep secret its communications about the 2011 legislative maps that were later ruled unconstitutional.

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Republicans tired of losing in courts seek to stack superior courts

Real Facts North Carolina today released a new analysis of judicial maps proposed on Monday. Using the gubernatorial election results from 2016 as a benchmark, the Real Facts report finds that under the proposed maps the number of Republican-held Superior Court seats could double, from 31 to 62 judgeships.

Fourteen times, laws enacted by this unconstitutional General Assembly have been found unconstitutional. Laws that have rigged the system and earned North Carolina headlines for all the wrong reasons. In Superior Court, judges have ruled against the GOP majority on judicial retention elections, local control, and the NCGA’s authority over the coal ash commission.

Now, in the last week of session, and without consulting either the Administrative Office of the Courts or the Conference of District Attorneys, Republicans seek the first statewide redraw of these districts in decades.

Statewide results in the gubernatorial race were nearly even between Democrats and Republicans, 48% to 48%. But in their judicial gerrymander, the GOP picks their voters to turn an even slate into a nearly 2 to 1 advantage.

You can find the report here (PDF).

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Republicans tired of losing in courts still seek to stack superior courts

RALEIGH—Real Facts North Carolina today released an updated analysis of new judicial maps proposed this week. Using the gubernatorial election results from 2016 as a benchmark, the Real Facts report finds that under proposed maps the number of republican held seats could nearly double going from 31 to 58 judgeships.

Statewide results in the gubernatorial race were nearly even between Democrats and Republicans, 48% to 48%. But in their judicial gerrymander, the GOP picks their voters to turn an even slate into a nearly 2 to 1 advantage.  

Fourteen times, laws enacted by this unconstitutional General Assembly have been found unconstitutional. Laws that have rigged the system and earned North Carolina headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Whether it’s restricting women’s access to health care, the worst voter suppression law in the country, or gerrymandering legislative districts by race these unconstitutional actions by the Republican led General Assembly have hurt citizens across the state. 

“North Carolina is a 50-50 state that gave their electors to Republican Donald Trump while electing Democrat Roy Cooper governor. Republicans, upset by their losing streak in courts where 14 of their laws have been overturned on a constitutional basis, now seek to use a partisan gerrymander to rig the courts.”

Download the report here (PDF).

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These 39 Republicans said they thought judges should be elected, rulings against their unconstitutional laws might have changed that

In 2012 Civitas asked candidates for office in NC if judges should continue to be elected by the voters. (2012 was the last time Civitas posted a survey.)

The answer from those that filled it out was a resounding yes.

27 current Republican members of the House said they agreed with the statement “Judges should continue to be elected by the voters.”

This included members such as Chris Malone, Debra Conrad, Ted Davis, and Jonathan Jordan.

Despite the widespread support for Judicial elections amongst the Republican caucus, rumors and even threats swirl that the Republican majorities in the legislature are considering moving to a legislative appointment process in the wake of several legal losses.

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“Just Arbitrary:” New Maps Surface at Joint Committee on Judicial Redistricting and Reform

Yesterday’s three-and-a-half hour meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting produced a new round of maps, a few heated exchanges, and no actual vote.

The meeting began innocuously enough; Brad Fowler from the Associated Office of the Courts (AOC) presented workload formulas for judicial officials, followed by almost two hours of questions from legislators.

Of course, the main event was yet to come: a battle over another set of new maps. New prosecutorial, district, and superior court divisions reading “Option A” were passed out during a short break about two hours into the meeting.

After introducing the new maps, Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly) fielded questions from incredulous Democratic legislators who attempted to pin down the exact criteria used to redraw the districts. Exchanges between Burr and Democratic legislators became more heated; Sens Blue and McKissick repeatedly asked if there was a guiding criteria or rationale for drawing these maps other than “just arbitrary.” Burr recited his mantra that he was attempting to correct population imbalances and that he had met with judicial officials who wanted a map that was more in line with their existing districts.

Sen. McKissick, however, continued to push. Asking for a document that summarizes data of criteria, Burr pointed him to the website. However, McKissick responded that no written document exists there.

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Southern Coalition for Social Justice Analysis: Racial and partisan bias found in judicial redistricting plans

Southern Coalition for Social Justice released an analysis documenting some of the racial and partisan biases "infecting" the most recent judicial redistricting plan presented to the General Assembly in December 2017. Alison Riggs, SCJS's senior voting rights attorney described the key problem with the judicial districts, the "huge" variation in the number of residents per judge across the state. 

"with a consistent pattern of too many people per judge in our urban areas will likely result in people of color disproportionately having less access to our justice system,” said Riggs.

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After Republican leaders refuse to allow retired judge to speak on judicial redistricting, Democrats walk out in protest.

Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting was not without drama.

After “technical difficulties” that delayed the meeting and eventually forced everyone to move to a new location, Sen. Bishop opened the meeting by stating that the Governor’s representative, retired Judge Don Stephens, would not be allowed to speak on proposed judicial redistricting.

Sen. Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) ruled that Don Stephens, a recently retired judge, was not an appropriate representative for Gov. Cooper because he was not employed by the Governor’s Office.

Sen. Chaudhuri (D-Wake) objected to this, saying that he was interested in hearing from Judge Stephens and that not doing so was a missed opportunity.

Sen. McKissick (D-Durham) had to ask multiple times for an opportunity to speak before Sen. Bishop would allow it. McKissick asked for a point of order to allow the members of the committee to vote on whether they would allow Stephens to speak, Bishop refused.

The three Democratic Senators present, Chaudhuri, Ford, and McKissick, walked out in protest of the obvious attempt to disallow input from a judge on the Republican judicial redistricting plans.

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Senate Select Committee wants to go back to Civil War-Era Judicial System

The Senate Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting focused their second meeting on the judicial selection process and possible reforms to NC’s judiciary. The Committee hosted three guest presenters during the December 6 meeting, Dean Brinkley and Professor Orth from the UNC School of Law and Alicia Bannon from the Brennan Center at NYU. The UNC Law professors explained North Carolina’s judicial history while Bannon explained different judicial selection processes and her recommendation for our state.

It was apparent the Senate Committee members wanted to give the General Assembly the power to appoint judges. The last time North Carolina’s legislators had that power was in the Civil War-era. The experts said this method undesirable because it can be a political and opaque process that leads to nepotism. However, senators liked the idea of going back to a process developed when only landowning white men could vote. Senator Hise proceeded to argue with his question that only the General Assembly should be given any power – perhaps the most honest statement of lawmakers’ real intent in their attempts at judicial reform:

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