With a seat up for grabs in the North Carolina Supreme Court, constituents will decide in November if the makeup will remain a 4-3 split in favor of Republicans, or change to 4-3 in favor of Democrats.
Justice Robert Edmunds Jr., a Republican-affiliated justice, has held the seat for the past 16 years. He is opposed by Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan, a Democratic-affiliated judge.
Due to court challenges at the beginning of the calendar year, no one knew a contested election, or an end-of-term election between two candidates, would occur.
In 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law changing elections for N.C. Supreme Court Justices from contested elections to retention elections where voters decide whether or not a justice keeps their seat.
However, a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges ruled this law unconstitutional in March. It moved to the N.C. Supreme Court, which deadlocked 3-3. Edmunds recused himself due to his upcoming reelection bid.
Because of the split in the N.C. Supreme Court, the decision by the lower court stood, reverting the supreme court to contested elections. A primary date was scheduled for June.
Edmunds said it has been an up-and-down election season because of the legislative changes, but he’s maintained some normalcy.
“The process of getting out, meeting voters, shaking hands, talking to people — that doesn't change,” he said.
Morgan and his campaign did not respond to emails and calls.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said the dynamic of the N.C. Supreme Court could change based on who wins the election.
Although Hall said partisan differences shouldn’t matter, he argued that they are still relevant.
“(The majority makeup) shouldn't matter theoretically, but in the real world we are seeing the North Carolina Supreme Court take fairly partisan votes on issues related to voting rights and redistricting,” he said.
Mitch Kokai, spokesperson at the John Locke Foundation, said although the N.C. Supreme Court rules unanimously in many cases, this election could affect previously passed legislation.
“Having a change of 4-3 Republican to 4-3 Democrat on the Supreme Court could end up having a major impact on whether legislation passed in the past few years is able to survive a court challenge,” he said.
Kokai said the campaigns for both candidates will be focused on their experience and approach to the job.
“Their job is to look at the facts of a court case and decide whether the law has been applied appropriately,” he said.
Edmunds said his experience in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and in private practice is what sets him apart from his opponent.
Morgan's website also references his experience as a factor for voters to consider.
Edmunds said partisanship is left at the courthouse door.
“We take an oath to apply the law and the facts of the case. And it's not secret how the candidates in any of these races, which parties they're registered with,” he said. “But that is simply not a factor in the work we do.”
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