Speaking to the North Carolina Bar Association on Saturday, Chief Justice Mark Martin called for merit selection of all North Carolina judges:
Martin proposed that retention elections for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges be held statewide and voters in individual judicial districts decide on District Court and Superior Court judges. The elections would be held after each term of office, which Martin said could be eight years or some other period.
This is an extraordinary statement, even in light of the ugly tug-of-war between North Carolina’s governor and state legislature over judicial selection in the last few months. With most state judges ascending to the bench through an electoral process, his call for merit selection would remove the very system that gave him and his colleagues personal and professional success.
But that, of course, is exactly the point. The North Carolina system is broken, and whatever democratic benefits direct elections of judges may serve now seem overshadowed by concerns that may reduce the judiciary’s public legitimacy. Chief Justice Martin’s call for merit selection was a brave first step toward a better system of justice in the state.