UPDATE: Chris Anglin, the N.C. Supreme Court candidate who sued over a new law affecting his campaign, won a temporary victory in court Monday afternoon.
For more information on that court case, see this article:
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One of three candidates for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court sued the state legislature on Monday, accusing its political leaders of meddling in the election and violating his rights in order to boost their preferred candidate.
Chris Anglin, a Raleigh attorney, was a registered Democrat until earlier this year, when he switched his party affiliation to Republican and entered the race for a spot on the state’s highest court. GOP leaders cried foul, calling Anglin “the enemy” and accusing him of being part of a secret Democratic plot to make it harder for the GOP-endorsed incumbent — Justice Barbara Jackson — to win re-election.
The legislature has made a number of changes over the last two years to how judicial elections will be conducted this November, including a new law passed this weekend that prompted Anglin’s lawsuit.
“The leadership of the General Assembly has been relentless in its attack on our independent judiciary in trying to rig this election,” Anglin said in a Sunday night press release announcing his plans to sue on Monday.
Anglin’s lawsuit makes a number of requests. It asks that parts of a bill targeting his campaign, which was passed into law on Saturday by the General Assembly, be struck down as unconstitutional. It asks that the state not print any ballots until a judge orders what the ballots should look like. It also asks that Anglin be given more time to withdraw from the race in the future if he decides to, and it asks for the state to pay his attorney’s fees.
The law passed over the weekend came out of a surprise legislative session in July, which was convened with less than 24 hours’ public notice. At that session the Republican-led majority in the legislature wrote and passed two new bills affecting the elections. One of the bills made it so that Anglin will not be identified as a Republican on the ballot this November.
The lawsuit names Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement and its leader Kim Strach, and state government as a whole.
“Candidates for office shouldn’t be permitted to switch party affiliation at the last possible minute,” a spokesman for Berger, Bill D’Elia, said in a statement Monday. “The most obvious reason for doing so is to split the vote from one party to benefit the other party, and that type of shenanigans — from Democrats or Republicans — has no place in our state.”
The other two candidates — Jackson and the Democratic challenger, Durham civil rights attorney Anita Earls — will have their party affiliations listed on the ballot. Previously, Jackson denied having anything to do with the new law, and Earls said, “North Carolinians deserve a fair election free from partisan games and meddling.”
Democrats in the legislature opposed the bill, saying it’s unfair for Republicans to change the rules in the middle of an election just because they didn’t like how things had shaped up for their party. Now, Anglin is adding to those criticisms.
“I didn’t make, break, or change the rules, just followed them,” he said. “Even children understand changing the rules in the middle of an election is wrong. What the Legislature has done is a violation of my Constitutional rights. This lawsuit is the next step in my fight to stand up for an independent judiciary.”
On Saturday, Republican Sen. Ralph Hise defended the new law, saying it did not target Anglin specifically.
“Today’s vote simply aligns the rules for judicial elections to those for every other public office in North Carolina, yet Democrats continue with their ridiculous claims that we are somehow attempting to ‘rig the system,’” Hise said.
Anglin’s lawsuit was one of at least three to be filed on Monday against the General Assembly for its actions over the weekend.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper also said he would sue the legislature Monday over a different law passed on Saturday, taking power away from a state commission that otherwise would’ve been in charge of writing short descriptions of the six proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot this November.
Cooper says that in the case of two of the six amendments, that lack of an outside commission is harming the state because the legislature is “falsely and unconstitutionally misleading voters and crippling the checks and balances that are the foundation of our democracy,” Cooper said.
The two amendments he’s asking to be taken off the ballot would limit his power to fill judicial vacancies and take away his power to fill hundreds of executive branch positions in regulatory positions and other boards. In both cases, the legislature would take on more authority that now belongs to the governor if the amendments pass.
Also on Monday, the NAACP and environmental groups planned to sue over four of the six amendment proposals that voters will be asked to approve this November.
Those include the same two that Cooper sued over, as well as amendments that would require ID for in-person voting and lower the cap on the state’s income tax rate.
The only two amendment proposals that have not yet been challenged are one re-affirming people’s right to hunt and fish, and another that would give crime victims more involvement in the criminal justice system.
Money in the Supreme Court race
In North Carolina voters choose the members of the state Supreme Court, unlike in the federal government where U.S. Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president.
This November, one of the seven seats on the state court will be up for grabs in the midterm elections. In 2016, an election for a different seat on the N.C. Supreme Court was the most expensive judicial race in the country, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.
The race that year cost more than $5 million, with the candidates spending about $750,000 and outside groups pouring in millions more on their behalf.
This year, as of June, Earls and Jackson had already raised more than the two 2016 candidates did. Spending on the race has not yet reached what it did in 2016, although there are still several months until the election.
Campaign finance records reviewed by The News & Observer show that it’s not just lawyers and political activists giving to the candidates.
Other major donors include business owners, real estate developers, medical professionals and others who might not have a vested interest in who’s on the court but who want to have a say in state politics anyway, like retirees, artists and teachers.