Activist judges and public interest lawyers are being blamed for forcing a second primary. One race that will be on every ballot is that for North Carolina Supreme Court Justice. The race could not appear on the first primary ballot due to litigation.
Back in 2015, state legislators attempted to change the way Supreme Court justices were elected. A bill would have allowed incumbent Supreme Court justices to be approved for consecutive terms through a simple yes-no retention election. Supporters of the move argued the procedure was not political, but was practiced in a number of other states in lieu of extensive learning curves.
But others, like Sabra Faires (UNA), viewed it as a power grab intended to preserve a 4-3 Republican majority on the court. She sued and is now challenging Robert Edmunds (REP), who is running for a third eight-year term. Daniel G. Robertson (DEM) also says he entered the race to oppose the power grab, and a fourth candidate, Mike Morgan (DEM) definitely stands in opposition to it. Edmunds claims no complicity in advancing the legislation.
The suit was making its way up the appellate process until early May when the Supreme Court split itself along party lines, Edmunds necessarily recused. That meant the decision reverted to the last appealed ruling, that a yes-no retention vote did not qualify as an election as required by the state constitution. Now, the top two vote-getters from the second primary will advance to the general election in November.
Consistent with ongoing trends toward dumbing down and value neutrality, it is now illegal for justices to campaign on their stances on issues. Races are run nonpartisan, although every media outlet broadcasts party affiliations. And campaign contribution maxima are set very, very low. What the people get instead is a flyer from the League of Women Voters sharing fine pabulum like how old the candidates are, their marital status, how many children they have, where they went to school, etc.
Edmunds argues experience is important. Campaign literature paints him as opposed to judicial activism while not being strictly Originalist. “We need justices who have established records demonstrating that they respect the Constitution and understand the limited role of the court. North Carolina deserves justices who have never distorted the law to satisfy their own prejudices. At the same time, we want justices who understand the real world outside the courthouse and the law books.”
While one’s choice of political party often says a lot about the way they will interpret the state and federal constitutions, Faires claims the justices have been more loyal to their respective parties. “I was outraged when politicians in Raleigh passed a blatantly unconstitutional law prohibiting anyone but the incumbent Supreme Court Justice from running,” she said. “I brought a lawsuit to give voters a choice. That unconstitutional law shows what’s wrong with our governing systems today.”
Morgan, a judge from Raleigh, is neither of the two Mike Morgans who have frequented local ballots. If elected, he promises, “I shall continue my judicial commitment to steadfastly strive to promote society’s well-being through the fair and impartial administration of justice, while enhancing the people’s confidence in and respect for the effectiveness of North Carolina’s system of jurisprudence.”
Perchance perceiving the futility of posting innocuous statements, Robertson doesn’t even have a web site. Having served as a lawyer and clerked for judges in three other states, he claims he is running as an outsider. “I seek a position on the NC Supreme Court to help ensure that the rights and liberties of all North Carolinians are fully preserved per the rule of law and that the laws are equally and fairly applied to all – regardless of their wealth, power, connections, or politics,” said he.
In spite of the ambiguity of the above statements, the election is important. The NC Supreme Court usually has final say in whether or not allegedly hardened criminals stay behind bars, and it may come into play in transgender access issues. In recent years, it has participated in decisions involving who owns the Asheville water system, the appropriateness of Duke Energy cleanup plans, and the fairness of redistricting outcomes.
Actually, the last redistricting case went before the US Supreme Court. What was challenged was two districts that allegedly crowded black people into two districts. Based on “black vote” philosophy, this could be construed as either ensuring two black candidates were elected or black candidates were elected only in two districts.
A decision had not been reached by the time absentee ballots were circulating, and since one cannot redraw two districts without affecting others, all thirteen Congressional races in the state were slid to the June 7 primary.
In District 11, Mark Meadows has no Republican challengers. He has honored party principles his first year of office, opposing Obamacare, abortion, gay marriage, and cap-and-trade; while championing the government shutdown and Speaker John Boehner’s ouster. He will be challenged in November by either Tom Hill or Rick Bryson, both moderate Democrats. Hill is framing Meadows as a do-nothing representative looking out for the interests of the wealthy. Bryson wants to spur a “mountain economic revival” through a program he calls “Generation NOW.”
Over in District 10, Andy Millard is running unopposed on the Democrat side while incumbent Patrick McHenry, who is characterized as strongly opposing the social progressive agenda, has three challengers. Jeff Gregory uses the Constitution and Bible as touchstones and believes it urgent to reduce the national debt. Retired physician and seven-time candidate Albert Wiley is best known for running out-of-district, as he lives 300 miles away on an island in Bogue Sound. Private investigator Jeff Baker is the third Republican candidate who believes McHenry is running too far to the left.
Voters are encouraged to consult the “Voter/Absentee Lookup” function at ncsbe.gov if they are unsure how redistricting affected them. Light turnout is expected.