University of Denver

Appointing Versus Electing Judges to North Carolina's Judiciary

IAALS Intern

With North Carolina's election day looming near, The Charlotte Observer has featured two contrasting opinion pieces, each advocating for the appointment or election of North Carolina judges.

Arguing for the appointment of judges, John Webster contends that, under North Carolina's current electoral system, the uninformed nature of most voters encourages a more political judicial selection process. He suggests this is because uninformed voters rely on increasingly expensive judicial campaigns and often choose judicial candidates "based on name recognition, ballot position, or some other criterion entirely irrelevant to the candidate’s qualifications." Webster states the electoral system therefore places biased judges on the state's bench who are distracted from their main priority, which should be the rule of law. Webster argues for an appointment system modeled after the federal judicial selection system, in which a judge is nominated and confirmed by two branches of the government, accountable to the citizens. Webster states that appointing judges will decrease judicial politics and  "more reliably produce excellent outcomes in who serves on our state’s bench."

Arguing the case for maintaining North Carolina's current electoral system, Robert Shaw states that it is a "dignified and intellectually robust process that produces good results." He contends judicial elections are actually less political than other selection methods because of their participatory nature, visibility, and the ability of voters to directly check and hold accountable candidates who demonstrate overly partisan activity. Additionally, Shaw suggests that though individual voters may be uninformed about judicial candidates, the aggregate voting population makes well-informed and purposeful decisions due to the robust amount of information available about judicial candidates. Thus, Shaw argues the electoral system can produce more preferable judges than under an appointment system due to the capacity of aggregate voters to digest such information and consider the competing values in a judicial election.