Raleigh, N.C. — Judicial contests can be pretty somber affairs. Judges and candidates for the bench aren't really allowed to say how they'd rule in a particular matter. So where a candidate for Congress might pledge to pass a law to, say, ban ferrets, candidates for judge can't express an opinion on ferrets lest a case involving the ferret law comes before them.
So it's hard to find a question that will give you insight into who a judge is and how their mind works. One I have asked over the years is some version of, "What role does your religion or faith play in your work as a judge?" I put that question to Paul Newby, the incumbent supreme court justice on this year's ballot, and his challenger, Appeals Court Judge Sam Ervin.
Here's what they said.
"We all take a oath. We say before God that we will perform our duties, uphold the constitution, enforce the statues as intended. When you look at the founding documents, particularly the preamble to the state constitution, the protection of individual rights and liberties, all those things emphasize our heritage. So, again, looking at history – You look at Washington and his farewell address talking about if you're going to be a friend of our form of government you need to be a friend of religion and morality. Both of those are pillars of our society. So, I think most importantly, it is as I said, conscientiously before God, I will perform the duties of my office. And certainly I understand whether it's Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, whether it's the preamble to our state constitution ... 'all' means all, and our rights come not from the government, or the Bill of Rights or the Constitution, but our rights come from our creator."
Newby notes the following on his campaign website: "He and his family attend Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh where he is an Elder, Sunday School teacher and youth leader."
"Directly, none. We operate in a secular court system and for that reason the law we look at is the law passed by the General Assembly. Our job is to interpret that law.... My sense is that while obviously a person is influenced by their surroundings – what is it that (poet Alfred Lord) Tennyson said? 'I am a part of all that I have met' – family background, where you grew up, who you knew as friends, what your life experiences have been, they're all there. And certainly my religious background affects who I am. But certainly ... it is not the job of an appellate judge to say we have some kind of theological responsibility. It's a secular court system and we're secular lawyers."
Ervin notes the following on his campaign website: "Ervin is a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Morganton, where he has served as a deacon and currently serves as elder."