Politics & Government

Judge hands NC legislators a temporary loss in lawsuit over political labels

Chris Anglin
Chris Anglin Chris Anglin campaign

The North Carolina Supreme Court candidate who is suing the state government and legislative leaders won a partial victory in court Monday.

Chris Anglin is a registered Republican, and he is running against a Democrat and another Republican, who is the incumbent seeking re-election. Both of them — Democrat Anita Earls and Republican Barbara Jackson — will have their party affiliations listed on the ballot this November. But a new law passed by the state legislature on Saturday means that the ballot won’t say Anglin is a Republican. Instead, the space next to his name will be blank.

Anglin said Republican legislators made that change so that his campaign would have less of a chance at succeeding and derailing Jackson, who is the party’s preferred candidate. Among several other legal requests filed Monday morning, he asked a judge to throw out the parts of the law that affected him.

And at just after 4 p.m. Monday, he got some of what he wanted. In a written statement, Anglin said he was happy, and not surprised.

“What the Legislature has done is a violation of my Constitutional rights, and frankly un-American,” he said. “Even children understand changing the rules in the middle of an election is wrong.”

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But Wake County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Holt did not rule on Anglin’s biggest complaint, seeking to get parts of the law thrown out as unconstitutional.

Instead, that argument will have to wait. Holt scheduled another hearing for next Monday, Aug. 13.

Anglin, a Raleigh attorney, was a registered Democrat until earlier this year. Republicans accuse him of being a plant meant to split the GOP vote. Anglin denies those charges, but Republicans point to his late party switch as well as the fact that his campaign consultant is Democratic operative Perry Woods and his lawyer is John Burns, a Raleigh Democrat and Wake County commissioner.

Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, defended the legislature’s move to take Anglin’s party affiliation off the ballot.

“Candidates for office shouldn’t be permitted to switch party affiliation at the last possible minute,” D’Elia said. “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.”

But while the constitutional argument remains up for debate, Holt did grant some partial victories to Anglin. She didn’t throw out the case, as legislators requested.

Holt also temporarily stopped state election officials from printing any ballots for this November’s election — a process that was supposed to begin this week — and extended a deadline for Anglin and other affected candidates to drop out of the race if they so choose. That deadline had originally been this Wednesday.

A lawyer from the office of Attorney General Josh Stein, on behalf of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, said the board did not have an opinion on how the judge should rule. But he said it typically takes about a month to print and distribute all the ballots before the start of absentee voting, which is scheduled to begin on Sept. 7. He said that much time is necessary to conduct quality control testing such as checking bar codes on ballots.

Martin Warf, a Raleigh attorney representing Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, said Anglin’s argument that the new law infringes on his constitutional rights is seriously lacking.

“There is no right for a candidate to control what’s on the ballot,” Warf said. He also noted that the new law does not prevent anyone from running for office; it just affected who will have a party label on the ballot — which Warf said “is not a severe burden.”

But the other side disagreed with that interpretation. Since the law only applied retroactively, attorneys said, candidates’ due process rights were violated.

Anglin isn’t the only candidate who’s affected, although he is the most high-profile one. He was joined in his case by Rebecca Edwards, who is seeking election as a district court judge in Wake County. Edwards switched her registration to the Democratic Party shortly before filing for that race. She argued her case jointly with Anglin on Monday.

“Retroactive legislation violates due process,” said her lawyer, Narendra Ghosh. He added that “the very integrity of an election” is threatened if there aren’t clear rules that voters and candidates alike can rely on.

Ghosh said he agreed with Warf’s argument that there is no inherent right to run for office, or to demand how he or she wants to be labeled on the ballot. But, he said, “The difference is ... you can’t just retroactively take away that label in a discriminatory fashion.”

Senate Bill 3, a bill concerning party affiliation in judicial races, was introduced and voted on after a heated debate on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran