It was political theater that will live in infamy. Robin Hudson, a veteran judge and eight-year incumbent on the North Carolina Supreme Court, has been a fair-minded jurist with years of experience at different levels in the state court system.
But in her campaign for a second eight-year term on the high court, she was the object of a savage advertising attack that clearly was part of a national effort from a right-wing organization out of Washington, the Republican State Leadership Committee. The groups intent is to try to achieve a Republican takeover of state courts.
The attack, thankfully, did not work, and Hudson on Tuesday led the other candidates in her race: Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson of Charlotte and Jeanette Doran, a lawyer who once ran the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, one of several organizations tied to the family of Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrorys budget director. Pope, a wealthy businessman and former legislator, has provided funding for several conservative-leaning organizations, though he says he had nothing to do with funding the ad against Hudson.
Doran finished third. Hudson will face Levinson in the fall. Republicans apparently had hoped they could knock Hudson out in this nonpartisan primary, but they failed.
The Republican reasons
In North Carolina, taking control of the court is important to Republicans for several reasons. Among them is that redistricting maps drawn by Republicans, maps that excessively favor Republican candidates in legislative and congressional races, are up for review by the state Supreme Court. There also may be legal confrontations that wind up in the court over school vouchers (public money for private education) and budget cuts to education.
So Republicans want Hudsons seat. A political action committee, Justice for All NC, led the battle with hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in a reprehensible television ad designed to stir the emotions of voters, who can be unfamiliar with candidates in judicial races.
The ad referred to a conscientious legal opinion that Hudson voiced in a 2010 case before the court. The court ruled that those convicted of child molestation could be subject to electronic monitoring even if they had been convicted before the monitoring law in the state went into effect. Hudson dissented with some other justices, believing that such a ruling would be unconstitutional because the U.S. Constitution prohibits retroactive punishment.
She was not siding with child molesters, as the advertisement contended. The deceitful advertisement was condemned by the N.C. Bar Association, and six former state Supreme Court justices pronounced it disgusting and false.
From opponents, silence
Unfortunately, neither of Hudsons opponents, Levinson or Doran, repudiated the ad. That does not speak well of them. Judges or those who want to be judges should have more gumption and more regard for the law and the high court than that.
Hudson, a Democrat, did what she could to stem the damage done by the ad.
That she survived is a point of pride, or should be, for those in North Carolina who care about the integrity of their courts. Her making it past the primary also offers hope that the residents of the state were sending a message to the cynical sponsors of this ad that they cannot so easily manipulate the voters of North Carolina.
This race this maddening, harshly partisan race in which a good judge was unfairly vilified offers another lesson as well. It is that full disclosure of donors to political campaigns, a principle that opens windows on how democracy works and allows the public to know just who is paying for political ads and the like, remains important. It is something that Congress has tried to address, only to be beaten back by Republicans who believe in come one, come all to the donors table and by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court dutifully serving the Republicans who appointed most of its members.
Hudsons leading this vote is encouraging to those who have faith that the people eventually will realize that assault advertising is little more than an attempt to play on their fears for the benefit of special interests.