Republican Party of North Carolina v. Martin

Decision Date05 January 1993
Docket NumberNo. 91-1741,91-1741
Citation980 F.2d 943
PartiesREPUBLICAN PARTY OF NORTH CAROLINA; Bruce Briggs; William R. Sigmon; Marvin K. Gray; R. Howard Riddle; Lloyd Fowler; Joe R. Wilson; R. Walter White; Edgar A. Readling, Jr.; Frederic M. Gallagher; Ralph A. Walker, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. James G. MARTIN, Governor of North Carolina; North Carolina State Board of Elections; Robert N. Hunter, Jr., Chairman of North Carolina State Board of Elections; Thomas A. Farr; William A. Marsh, Jr.; Ruth Turner Semashko; June K. Youngblood; The North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, Defendants-Appellees, and Durham County Board of Elections; Forsyth County Board of Elections; Guilford County Board of Elections, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

C. Allen Foster, Patton, Boggs & Blow, Greensboro, N.C., argued (Robert N. Hunter, Jr., Marshall R. Hurley, on brief), for plaintiffs-appellants.

H. Jefferson Powell, Special Counsel to the Atty. Gen., North Carolina Dept. of Justice, Raleigh, N.C., argued (Lacy H. Thornburg, Atty. Gen., Edwin M. Speas, Jr., Sr. Deputy Atty. Gen., Tiare B. Smiley, Special Deputy Atty. Gen., North Carolina Department of Justice, Raleigh, N.C., James E. Ferguson, II, Leslie J. Winner, Ferguson, Stein, Watt, Wallas, Adkins & Gresham, P.A., Charlotte, N.C., Arch T. Allen, II, Moore & Van Allen, Raleigh, N.C., on brief), for defendants-appellees.

Before RUSSELL and WILKINS, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS, Senior United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation.


WILKINS, Circuit Judge:

The Republican Party of North Carolina (RPNC) 1 appeals an order of the district court dismissing its suit against the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) 2 on the ground that RPNC's complaint presents a nonjusticiable political question. In its complaint brought under 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981, 1983 (West 1981 & Supp.1992), RPNC alleges that the method of electing superior court judges 3 in North Carolina constitutes a political gerrymander intended to deprive members of the Republican Party and others aligned with this political party of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. I, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, id. at amend. XIV, § 1. We agree with RPNC that a justiciable question is presented. We further conclude that the complaint states a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment that, if proven, is one upon which relief may be granted. We find, however, that RPNC has failed to state a claim under the First Amendment. Consequently, we reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Prior to 1868, the General Assembly of North Carolina appointed all state judges. John L. Sanders, A Brief History of the Constitutions of North Carolina, in The Constitution of the State of North Carolina: Its History and Content 1, 1-2 (issued by Thad Eure, Secretary of State of North Carolina, 1983). Since 1868, the Constitution of North Carolina has allowed the General Assembly to choose between statewide or districtwide popular elections as the method for selecting superior court judges. 4 See N.C. Const. art. IV, § 16 (also noting that current provisions of this section are similar to those of the 1868 constitution as rewritten in 1962). In 1877, the General Assembly implemented the present scheme of statewide elections, 5 see generally N.C.Gen.Stat. § 163-1 (Michie 1991) (detailing current timing of primaries and elections), and in 1915, the legislature enacted Chapter 101, a law that includes a requirement that candidates for the office of superior court judge be nominated through party primaries, see generally id. § 163-104 (Michie 1991) (current provision addressing primary elections). Although Chapter 101 does not specify that the local primaries be held within each district, the North Carolina State Board of Elections implemented and presently maintains a system of local districtwide primaries. 6 Consequently, voters nominate candidates for superior court judgeships in local party primaries held in each district, and thereafter, the successful primary candidates from each district run against each other in a general, statewide election. Thus, for example, in a given district, the voters select one candidate in the Democratic primary and another in the Republican primary. These candidates then run against each other to fill that superior court judgeship in a general, statewide election in which all of the voters of the state participate.

While superior court judges must "reside in the district for which [they are] elected," N.C. Const. art. IV, § 9(1), the constitution grants the judges statewide jurisdiction, id. § 12(3), and permits rotation from district to district within a judicial division, 7 id. § 11. Presently, the state is divided into four judicial divisions. See N.C.Gen.Stat. § 7A-41 (Michie Supp.1991). According to RPNC's complaint, superior court judges do not actually serve throughout the state because assignment outside of a division rarely occurs, and a superior court judge exercises unique statutory powers within his or her own district. For example, the judge in each district appoints the local public defender, id. § 7A-466(d) (Michie Supp.1991), and fills vacancies for the position of clerk of superior court, id. § 7A-100(a) (Michie 1991).

In the mid-1980's, the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers and others brought suit against Governor Martin alleging that features of the system of electing superior court judges had the purpose and effect of abridging nonwhite voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1971-74e (West 1981 & Supp.1992), and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This litigation ended by a consent decree upon adoption by the General Assembly of Chapter 509 of the North Carolina Session Laws of 1987, 1987 N.C.Sess.Laws 509 (codified at scattered sections in N.C.Gen.Stat. §§ 7A-1, et seq., 163-1, et seq. (Michie 1991 & Supp.1991)) (Chapter 509). See Alexander v. Martin, No. 86-1048-CIV-5 (E.D.N.C. Nov. 25, 1987).

Chapter 509 eliminated staggered terms within multimember judicial districts and mandated redrawing of district lines. 8 See State ex rel. Martin v. Preston, 325 N.C. 438, 385 S.E.2d 473, 476-77 (1989); N.C.Gen.Stat. § 7A-41 (setting forth superior court divisions and districts). As a result, the number of judicial districts increased from 34 to approximately 70. 9 See Preston, 385 S.E.2d at 476; N.C.Gen.Stat. § 7A-41 (establishing new district lines). Unlike past configurations, the new district lines often split counties and some districts now consist of parts of more than one county. See Preston, 385 S.E.2d at 476; N.C.Gen.Stat. § 7A-41 (explaining new district boundaries). RPNC alleges that 16 districts do not have a courthouse, a clerk of court, or any other official associated with the judicial district except for the local superior court judge. In addition, Chapter 509 set forth the requirement that all individuals seeking nomination for the position of superior court judge must, at the time of filing a notice of candidacy, reside within the district for which they seek election as it will exist at the time the individual would take office. See Preston, 385 S.E.2d at 477; N.C.Gen.Stat. § 163-106(i) (Michie 1991) (setting forth residency requirement).

According to the allegations of RPNC's complaint, in passing Chapter 509, the General Assembly rejected amendments to eliminate the practice of nomination by primary within each district followed by a statewide general election in favor of a system by which both the primary and general elections would be held within each district. RPNC contends that this defeat marked at least the eighth attempt since 1961 to change the election method.

RPNC maintains that since 1900, in the hundreds of elections for superior court judgeships held in the state, only one Republican has been elected to a superior court judgeship. 10 (This position was eliminated several years later during redistricting.) RPNC further asserts that since 1968, four of the ten Republican candidates for superior court judgeships would have been successful if the general election had been conducted on a districtwide, rather than on a statewide, basis.

RPNC further claims that in the 1984 statewide general election, Republican candidates for superior court judgeships received approximately 46 percent of the overall vote, and Democratic candidates received approximately 54 percent of the overall vote. RPNC's complaint avers that:

In the 24th Judicial District however, 54% of the voters who voted for Superior Court judges voted for the Republican candidate for Superior Court judge for that district and 46% voted for the Democratic candidate. Similarly, in what were then the 15A, 17B, 18, 19A, 19B, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27A, 28 and 29 Judicial Districts, a majority of voters who voted for Superior Court judge voted for the Republican candidates. No Republican resident Superior Court judges were elected because of the structural dilution of Republican votes by the voting customs, practices, and procedures complained of herein.

In addition, RPNC maintains that in the 1986 election, a similar disparity between the statewide election results and projected district-wide election results occurred in ten judicial districts. 11


RPNC challenges the custom or practice in North Carolina of selecting superior court judges by statewide popular election following local district-wide nomination. According to RPNC, this method of nomination and election contravenes the Fourteenth Amendment by diluting the votes of those who vote for Republican candidates and violates the First Amendment by restricting the rights of Republican voters to free speech and political association. The...

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