Race could shift balance of NC's top court

Posted October 31, 2016

— While most of the attention this election season is on the presidential and gubernatorial races, another election could change the political inclination of North Carolina's top court.

The current makeup of the state Supreme Court is four Republican-leaning judges and three Democratic-leaning judges. One of those Republicans, Associate Justice Bob Edmunds, is seeking his third eight-year term on the court and faces Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan, a Wake County Democrat, next Tuesday.

Edmunds said he follows a conservative philosophy and avoids legislating from the bench. He said voters should look at his long list of endorsements, including four former Supreme Court chief justices – Republicans and Democrats – if they have doubts about his ability.

"I don’t have a really strong judicial philosophy, but there are certain sort of rules that I follow that have kept me out of trouble. From the doctors, I steal the notion, 'Do no harm' – just be careful in what you write," he said. "I’m a strong believer in the rule of law. Another way of saying that is the same facts and the same law, you’re going to get the same result, no matter who’s in front of you."

Before becoming a judge in 1998, he was in private practice. He called that important experience on his resume.

"In private practice, you learn that, if you don't produce, you don't eat. You can't pay your staff," he said. "I know what it's like to deal with cranky judges. I know what it's like to deal with cranky lawyers. And that informs the way I do my work."

Morgan has been a judge for 27 years, most of it in Wake County trial courts. He said that's crucial for a Supreme Court justice who reviews records of lower courts.

"Because I've been a trial court judge for so long, I know what those records ought to have in them, and if they don't have what they need, or conversely do have what they need, then I know how to rule," Morgan said. "But he's not ever been a trial court judge, so he doesn't know those nuances."

He agreed judicial activism and politics should be avoided, but he also said Edmunds shouldn't be campaigning as a conservative.

"When he approaches any case, he looks at it through a lens of conservatism. I think that's wrong," Morgan said. "People want their judges to be fair and impartial, not have any political proclivity, any political agenda."

Five of the 15 seats on the state Court of Appeals are also up for election this year.


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