Court decisions

November 8, 2012 

The obvious theme emerging from results in races for the state Supreme Court (one seat up for election) and Court of Appeals (three seats) is that the incumbents generally won. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby was re-elected, as were veteran Appeals Court Judges Wanda Bryant and Linda McGee.

The exception was Judge Cressie Thigpen who (for a second time) will have to vacate an Appeals Court seat to which he’d been appointed.

Why Thigpen lost – to challenger Chris Dillon, a Raleigh lawyer and banker – isn’t obvious, other than that Dillon mustered 1.76 million votes to Thigpen’s 1.58 million. On the face of it, Thigpen’s judicial qualifications were superior, and he hasn’t been controversial on the bench. Nonetheless, the voters spoke, and come January it will be Judge Dillon who sits on the state’s second-highest court.

At least Thigpen wasn’t the victim of a sleazy attack ad. Nor did he have to battle an opponent whose backers spent – in the context of a race for a North Carolina Supreme Court seat – $2 million or more, most of it in the campaign’s late going.

No such luck for Sam Ervin IV, a sitting Court of Appeals judge who vied for Newby’s Supreme Court seat. Spending on his behalf was minimal by comparison. Ervin (a Democrat in the officially non-partisan race) was reduced to warning, sensibly, that the state’s admirable system of publicly funded statewide judicial elections is in grave danger of disintegrating under the weight of heavy spending by super PACS like those formed to support Newby, who campaigned under a conservative banner.

Well, Newby’s side might say, no one forced Ervin to make the race.

And maybe, in the future, the only candidates who’ll run will be those comfortable with the prospect of being elected with the support of big-spending special-interest groups whose interests might show up in cases to be decided – impartially of course – by our esteemed Supreme Court. Hard to see that as an improvement.

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