Who knows why Justice Bob Edmunds, an incumbent and veteran member of the North Carolina Supreme Court, lost his bid for a third term Tuesday? It was a Republican night, and Edmunds is a Republican. That party swept out some incumbent members of the Council of State, and returned U.S. Sen. Richard Burr to Washington for third term.
Candidates for the state Supreme Court have long been affiliated with parties, though the race itself it classified as nonpartisan. But Edmunds’ role in upholding congressional and legislative district maps — later found by federal courts to be illegal because of racial gerrymandering — became the central point of attack for his critics.
Morgan, a Democrat, now joins three other progressive judges to form a 4-3 majority on the state’s highest court, and that may well affect tests of Republican-backed measures in the General Assembly that face constitutional challenges, first among them the drawing of districts and issues such as Voter ID. It’s true that even if the court turned away some of the GOP-run General Assembly’s actions, those Republican leaders would appeal to higher courts. But losing in the state Supreme Court, where they’ve been winning, would be a setback and might draw unflattering attention to their causes.
Morgan is well qualified, having been a District Court and Superior Court judge. Edmunds, a veteran prosecutor before joining the bench, is well-liked in the legal community for his thoughtful, soft-spoken personality and intellect. But his redistricting ruling was important, and put him in a position of defending a clearly partisan maneuver. That’s not a good place for a judge, any judge, to be.