“NC Supreme Court election could change ideological tilt”

News and Observer:

It was not until May that it became clear Edmunds would face any challengers in his campaign to keep his seat.

In 2015, the Republican-led General Assembly passed a law that changed how sitting justices could be re-elected. Incumbent justices could choose to stand for a retention election, meaning that voters would decide at the polls whether to keep the justice on the bench. If the voters said no, then the governor would appoint someone to fill the seat until the next election year, when the seat would be open to any candidates.

That law was struck down by a three-judge panel in February, and the state Supreme Court, with Edmunds recusing himself, deadlocked three to three on whether to uphold that decision.

Because the high court was evenly divided, the lower court ruling stood and a special primary election was hastily scheduled for June….

But Morgan challenges Edmunds, noting he sides with the Republican majority in cases such as the redistricting challenges, whether the General Assembly had the power to make a law to spend public dollars on private-school vouchers and some rulings supporting the loosening of environmental regulations.

“There is that perception that politics has infected that court, and perception often becomes reality,” Morgan said.

Morgan noted Edmunds has referred to himself as a “conservative judge” in campaign literature and at events.

Edmunds has said his use of the word “conservative” is not referring to a political leaning, but rather that he is a constitutional conservative.

“I think judges should be fair and impartial and that’s what I have been,” Morgan said. “One should not espouse a political proclivity at all.”

Morgan, who has been presiding over the challenge in state courts to the N.C. voter ID law, found himself at the center of a political question posed by the conservative Civitas Institute.

A column posted on its website suggested that Morgan should recuse himself from the case, contending that he stood to benefit by having a say in the outcome as a candidate in the November general election and from publicity about the issue.

Morgan checked with the Judicial Standards Commission on whether he had a conflict in keeping that case before signing up as a Supreme Court candidate in “an abundance of caution.” He was told there was no conflict by the commission’s executive director Carolyn Dubay. In a recent interview, Morgan said that had he been politically motivated, he could have made a ruling already in the case and he has not. The case is pending.


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