Justice Bob Edmunds deserved his place on the state Supreme Court. He is a former U.S. Attorney, well regarded by the legal community and has served 16 years on the state’s highest court.
There was every reason to keep him there. Then came Dickson v. Rucho. That case is why we are supporting the election of Edmunds’ opponent, Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan.
Dickson v. Rucho was the case in which plaintiffs challenged the redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly. Plaintiffs said the maps gerrymandered districts by race in order to protect the Republican majority and in the process illegally diminished the voting power of African Americans.
A three-member panel of Superior Court judges upheld the maps and the plaintiffs appealed. The state Supreme Court upheld the ruling with a vote that broke along ideological lines.
Justice Edmunds wrote the majority opinion and upheld the maps as proper. Justice Cheri Beasley, in dissent, said the maps violated African Americans’ voting rights. In particular, she mentioned the long, narrow Congressional District 12. She wrote:
“Because race and politics historically have been and currently remain intertwined in North Carolina, I cannot escape my conviction that politics are a pretext for this excruciatingly contorted race-based district ... To allow this serpentine district, which follows the I-85 corridor between Mecklenburg and Guilford Counties, to be drafted for political advantage is a proxy for racial disenfranchisement….”
Edmunds supporters are objecting to a TV ad tying Edmunds to this “snake” of a district drawn to limit the impact of African-American voters. However, the ad reflects Beasley’s dissent, makes a valid point and calls attention to a crucial race.
The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the North Carolina ruling and urged the state Supreme Court to reconsider in light of its ruling against Alabama for overemphasizing race in redistricting. The state Supreme Court did reconsider, and after much delay, stood by Edmunds’ original ruling with a second ruling written by Justice Paul Newby.
In a separate cases, two three-judge federal panels threw out the maps. Both panels said the legislature’s redistricting process used race in an unconstitutional fashion – the exact opposite of Edmunds’ conclusion.
Our concerns about Edmunds are reinforced by his support for giving taxpayer money to private schools through the school voucher program backed by state Senate leader Phil Berger. The state Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling against Berger’s favored program. It did so despite the state Constitution’s clear instruction that the state’s public spending for education is to be “exclusively” for public schools.
Whatever Edmunds’ virtues as a jurist on other matters, he has failed to properly defend the law in two areas that matter most. In one, he allowed the election of state legislators and members of Congress to be undermined by race-based politics. In another, he has supported the erosion of funding for public education, the crucial element of the state’s economy and a key to the well-being of the state’s less than affluent children.
These are two failures too many. It’s essential the state Supreme Court apply the law as an independent check on the legislature. Instead the court’s Republican majority has been an enabler of the legislature’s overreach.
That record makes this Supreme Court election more significant than most. The result will determine the ideological balance of the court and whether the court will test the legislature’s right-wing adventures or encourage them.
That is why we support the election of Wake County Superior Judge Michael Morgan to the state Supreme Court. He has served on the bench for 26 years and has shown a keen awareness of how the lofty debates about the law affect ordinary people. Morgan understands that in the American system the law should empower the weak and protect the vulnerable from the powerful.
Judge Michael Morgan has the kind of legal temperament the high court always needs, but especially needs now. We urge you to vote for a Supreme Court that sees its mission as a judicial body above politics. We urge you to vote for Judge Michael Morgan.