U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop Sues North Carolina Judges Over Withholding Votes in Election Case

U.S. House Representative Dan Bishop, a Republican from North Carolina, said he filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday over the anonymous nature of votes from courts in the state in several votes earlier this month that affected the 2022 primary and general elections.

Bishop said Wednesday that the decisions from appeals court judges and the state Supreme Court should not have been allowed without the names and votes of the involved judges being released.

On December 6, a panel of three appeals court judges voted to suspend the acceptance period of candidates filing for U.S. House and state legislative races because of concerns and lawsuits claiming that newly drawn legislative maps are advantageous to Republicans by taking voting power away from minority groups through gerrymandering.

Later that night, the full 15-judge Court of Appeals reversed that decision, with "a majority" of the judges approving the decision.

On December 8, the state Supreme Court voted to push the 2022 primary 10 weeks from March 8 to May 17 to allow lower courts more time to evaluate the lawsuits being brought over the district maps.

All three decisions were handed down without the release of the number of votes on each side or how each judge voted, which is what Bishop's lawsuit challenges.

"It's breathtaking hypocrisy: Judges require legislators to draw maps, debate maps and vote on new maps in public," Bishop said in a news release. "But they rule on them in the deepest, darkest recesses of the court system. No matter which side of the issue you're on, every North Carolinian has a right to this information and everyone should demand transparency from our judges. There are no grounds whatsoever for our courts to operate in secret."

North Carolina, Dan Bishop, Federal Lawsuit
Representative Dan Bishop, a North Carolina Republican, has filed a federal lawsuit to demand North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges disclose their votes on a case that prompted the 2022 primary to be postponed by 10 weeks. Above, Bishop speaks at a news conference held by members of the House Freedom Caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 29. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press File

Bishop's suit is arguing three private votes run counter to "a well-established tradition of public access to the votes of individual justices and judges in the decisions of these courts."

The court told North Carolina state and local elections officials not to begin accepting candidates for those seats, prompting the state Board of Elections to turn away from the State Fairground in Raleigh several candidates for office, including U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat who traveled from Charlotte to file her paperwork.

In both decisions, the judges used a lesser-known "conference" process where they are free to discuss the issues at hand privately and then announce a ruling publicly without providing a tally of how the vote went or which judge voted in which direction.

Bishop believes Democrats and Republicans alike should demand transparency for all three decisions and said he is particularly interested to know the vote of Jimmy Ervin, a Democratic justice on the state Supreme Court who filed for office before possibly voting shortly thereafter to halt candidate filing.

The high court's order did not disclose how each of the seven justices voted. The signature written on the decision was illegible and appeared over the words "For the Court."

In his lawsuit, Bishop notes that Amy Funderburk, clerk of the state Supreme Court, told him by email that Justice Tamara Barringer, a registered Republican, signed the order postponing the election. Bishop claims that neither Barringer nor any other Supreme Court worker responded to his request for a breakdown of how the seven justices voted.

Bishop, who accuses the high court and Court of Appeals of depriving him of his First Amendment rights, is also asking the courts to pay his attorneys' fees for this case.

"The First Amendment-protected interest will retain no significant value unless the deprivation of access is remedied almost immediately and in any event well prior to the general election 2022," Bishop wrote in the suit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

North Carolina, Dan Bishop, Federal Lawsuit
A lawsuit from North Carolina Republican Congressman Dan Bishop argues that three recent private votes from judges in the state run counter to "a well-established tradition of public access to the votes of individual justices and judges in the decisions of these courts." Above, Bishop addresses supporters after being announced as the winner of his race, defeating Democratic candidate Dan McCready, during an election night party on September 10, 2019, in Monroe, North Carolina. Brian Blanco/Getty Images