RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Republican legislative leaders are asking lawmakers to return to Raleigh early next week to consider overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would cancel primaries for 2018 judicial elections.
A spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger said Friday that senators are expected to gather Monday night for action on the override. The House also scheduled an evening floor session, with the expectation of a Tuesday vote in that chamber, should the Senate’s override vote be successful, according to Rep. David Lewis, the House Rules Committee chairman.
Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, said GOP whips were counting how many legislators would return and vote to override.
The measure, approved last week in largely party-line votes with veto-proof margins, also pushed back candidate filing for trial and appeals courts from February to June and permanently eased thresholds that all unaffiliated candidates and third parties must meet to get on ballots.
In his veto message earlier this week, Cooper objected to the judicial primary cancellation, saying it took “away the right of the people to vote for the judges of their choice.” He also considered it part of a larger GOP scheme to change how judges are chosen that he alleges would give control to the legislature.
The veto override next week is somewhat surprising, given that Sen. Bill Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican and Senate rules chairman, said last week he anticipated any vetoes from this month’s special session would be revisited during the legislature’s next scheduled return in early January.
Berger spokeswoman Shelly Carver wrote in an email Friday that House and Senate members decided waiting until January “was unfair to candidates who want to know the rules before making decisions about running for office in February.”
Other rules could be changed. Separately, the House last week voted for wide-ranging changes to the election districts for local District Court and Superior Court seats. The measure is now in the Senate, which isn’t as excited about judicial redistricting but has an appetite for replacing head-to-head elections in the judiciary with something different, usually categorized as “merit selection.”
GOP leaders say judicial remapping and merit selection might be passed in tandem early next year, although the selection changes likely would be subject to a statewide referendum. In the very least, they say not having judicial primaries in 2018 would give lawmakers more time to finalize new districts and avoid resetting candidate filing under replacement boundaries.
Lawmakers went home Oct. 5 after two days of voting in a reconvened session, but agreed to wait to officially adjourn the session until next Tuesday. That decision gave Cooper only 10 days to act on legislation on his desk, not 30.
Cooper has vetoed 13 bills since taking office in January. Nine have been overridden to date.