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State Supreme Court Justices Put Law Before Politics

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RALEIGH — If you made a list of political jobs, you would probably skip right over judges sitting on a bench. That would be a mistake.

Just like it would be a mistake to think that politics can never play a part in justice. The challenge is in putting the law first.

The North Carolina Supreme Court rules on cases which affect our lives, the law and sometimes our bank accounts. Historically, the seven member panel has had a Democratic majority.

Now, depending upon the outcome of one close race, the court may end up with its first Republican majority in this century. Despite the shift, justices say the law, not politics, will still be their guide.

When North Carolina Supreme Court Justices enter the courtroom, they are supposed to check their politics at the door. For the first time this century, it looks like the court may have a Republican majority.

Republican Judge Mark Martin, who was elected to the court Tuesday, says politics should not affect judicial decisions.

"Judges take an oath and place their hand on the Bible and promise to uphold the law. The law is not a Democratic or Republican thing, but it's the law," said Martin.

"I really don't think I could name you a case that was decided because of partisan politics," former Supreme Court Justice John Webb said. He agrees that politics have no role on the bench.

"It really should not make a difference. The Republican judges, I feel sure, are going to do their best to be impartial and fair," Webb said.

The State Supreme Court reviews all death penalty cases. From 1993 to 1997, the court upheld 116 cases and sent 27 cases back to the lower courts for new trials or re-sentencing. Justices say the new makeup of the court will not change how these decisions are made.

"I do not envision any of the justices making a legal decision based on political considerations," said Martin.

There has been so much concern about judges being completely impartial that some people have suggested non-partisan judicial elections.

For the first time ever, this year Superior Court judges in North Carolina were elected this way. But Appellate Court judges and District Court judges still run on party tickets.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Joe Frieda, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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