This weekend saw the passing of one of the current sitting Justices of the United States Supreme Court, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Political leanings and personal opinions aside, it is a sad day for his family and friends. Now the question arises as to who will take his place. By now most of you know that Justice Scalia’s replacement must be appointed by the President of the United States and then confirmed by the United States Senate. And most of you know our current President is a Democrat while the Senate is controlled by Republicans. So many of you anticipate–and possibly correctly–a fair amount of gridlock and angst over the nomination process.
The United States Supreme Court holds an immense amount of power over our daily lives but we, the people, do not have any direct role in selecting the nine members of the Court. All we can do is to impress upon the ear of the President and Senators and seek to influence their decisions. While this may seem a bit unusual or even unfair it is the design of our United States Constitution.
However, there are judges who have even more impact over our daily lives and over which we have far more direct control. In some states, trial court judges are elected by the voters. This is the case in North Carolina. In fact, North Carolina requires elections for ALL state court judicial positions which includes the appellate courts–North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court. Elections are non-partisan meaning the judicial candidates do not usually disclose their political affiliation or preferences, if any.
In North Carolina trial court judges are the judges at the District Court and Superior Court levels. Click here for a brief primer of the court system in North Carolina. District Court judges hear a variety of cases including family law cases, traffic tickets, misdemeanor criminal offenses, some civil cases, appeals from Small Claims Court. Superior Court judges hear cases involving claims seeking more than $25,000.00. Only a select number of cases proceed directly to the appellate courts which means most people with a legal matter will be in either District or Superior Court.
Since North Carolina judges are elected they usually campaign and seek to meet the voters and share their philosophies and some goals. If you do not know the judges who may be running for office in your local area you should make it a point to do so. If you know a local lawyer whom you trust, contacting the lawyer may be a good starting point for your research. Otherwise you should attend some candidate forums, campaign events, or other venues at which you can put a name and perspective to a face. And of course the Internet usually contains surveys, links, websites and other information about the candidates as well as current judges.
In sum, you should understand the impact that judges have on our community and daily lives and make an effort to be informed. And to the extent you have an opportunity to participate in the process of selecting judges you should do such. If you are neither informed nor engaged you are truly missing out and some would say you waive your right to complain. Be encouraged and become informed!
- Posted in: Legal News
- Tagged: appointment, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, ballot, candidate, confirmation, court, Democrat, election, information, judge, justice, nomination, North Carolina Court of Appeals, North Carolina Supreme Court, President of the United States, Republican, United States Constitution, United States Senate, voter guide