The following editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer:
Voters go to the polls next week for a rare June congressional primary, but there’s another little-followed race on the ballot that is at least as important: a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Incumbent Bob Edmunds seeks a third term and is pitted against three challengers: Sabra Faires, Mike Morgan and Dan Robertson. The top two vote-getters face off in November.
It’s a momentous contest because the outcome will determine the court’s partisan and philosophical tilt. And with the N.C. legislature’s appetite for passing controversial laws that end up in court and sometimes lose, the makeup of the bench is more consequential than ever.
The court is officially nonpartisan but increasingly less so in practice. It is split between four Republicans and three Democrats, with each side voting as a reliable bloc on some of the most polarizing questions.
Voters are fortunate in that all four candidates are competent and three stand out as especially capable. A strong case can be made for each of the three, and how you vote may hinge on which factor you deem most important.
Here’s how we see the candidates:
He is also a solidly conservative Republican. He is running radio ads calling on all true conservatives to vote and to ensure that the court stays in conservative control. The Mecklenburg County Republican Party has sent out emails highlighting Edmunds as the conservative choice and scratching out the other names. Former Republican Party officials have explicitly called for the re-election of Edmunds to ensure the court continues to make conservative-friendly rulings as it has on school vouchers, voter ID, redistricting and other issues.
At age 67, he would have to resign a little more than halfway through his term.
Faires is registered as unaffiliated, and if she’s elected the court would be comprised of three Republicans, three Democrats and one independent. She would likely be the most centrist of the group, a considerable asset in an era when the court, which is supposed to be truly impartial, is increasingly politicized.
He has a demonstrated record of impartiality, though he is a registered Democrat.
Voters would not have had a choice of candidates in this race if not for Faires, who sued the state over a law that many saw as intended to protect Edmunds. It created retention elections for the high court, in which incumbents do not face challengers but only an up-or-down retention vote every eight years. With only Edmunds up for re-election, it would have applied solely to him this year. Faires challenged the law as unconstitutional, and a panel of Superior Court judges agreed with her unanimously. The Supreme Court, with Edmunds recusing himself, split 3-3, allowing the lower court ruling to stand and reinstating normal elections for the court.
The top three candidates would all perform capably. But we are troubled by Edmunds’ overt political appeals when the state needs a less, not more, political bench.
We give the nod to Faires, based on her intellect, her experience in and knowledge of state government, and, importantly, her independence from either party. We see her centrism as an extremely healthy thing given that the rest of the court would be divided 3-3 along party and philosophical lines.
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