Patterson Harkavy prevents the NC General Assembly from changing 2018 election rules

Patterson Harkavy attorneys Narendra Ghosh and Paul Smith successfully prevented the North Carolina General Assembly from changing the rules for 2018 judicial elections.

The General Assembly originally created a system in which judicial candidates would appear on the November ballot along with their party affiliation. In late July, after candidate filing had closed, the General Assembly enacted a new law that retroactively changed the rules. Under the new system, candidates would not appear on the ballot with their partisan identifier if they had changed their registration in the 90 days before they filed for office.

Patterson Harkavy represented Rebecca Edwards, a judicial candidate for Wake County District Court, in challenging the new system. Ms. Edwards had updated her registration several weeks before filing to run for office in June 2018. Under the General Assembly's newly enacted rules, Ms. Edwards would appear without any partisan information on the ballot, while her opponents would be listed as being affiliated with their party of choice.

Ms. Edwards' lawsuit argued that the retroactive changes were enacted to influence an election for the North Carolina Supreme Court, and that she was simply collateral damage in legislators' unconstitutional attempt to tilt the scales of that higher profile election.

Patterson Harkavy's lawsuit claimed the changes were unconstitutional on two different grounds. First, it argued that the change violated due process, asserting that retroactive changes to election rules that "move the goalposts" in the middle of a campaign are inconsistent with fundamental democratic principles. Second, it argued that the change violated Ms. Edwards' right to association, as it permitted her opponents to appear on the ballot with associational information while denying her the same right. Patterson Harkavy introduced affidavits from experts in electoral politics demonstrating that Ms. Edwards would be placed at a tremendous electoral disadvantage if she appeared on the ballot without a party identifier.

On August 13, Wake County Superior Court Judge Rebecca W. Holt sided with Patterson Harkavy. The Court issued a preliminary injunction concluding that Ms. Edwards was likely to succeed on the merits of her each of her claims, and preventing the new changes from going into affect. The legislature sought emergency appellate review before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. After the Court of Appeals denied their petition on August 27, 2018, the legislature withdrew its appeal, ensuring that Ms. Edwards' would appear on the ballot with her partisan identifier.

Patterson Harkavy represented Ms. Edwards along with co-counsel from Tharrington Smith LLP. The controversy gained extensive media coverage, including in The Progressive Pulse and U.S. News & World Report. Click here to view Patterson Harkavy's initial brief in support of its motion for a preliminary injunction; click here to view the trial court's order granting the preliminary injunction.