North Carolina's Supreme Court Controversy
As November quickly approaches, political discourse has largely centered on the midterm elections. It’s easy for voters and the media to get caught up in talk about Congress “taking back the House,” or retaining the current seat representation. But it’s vital people don’t forget about some of the most important and controversial races: judicial elections.
This year’s North Carolina Supreme Court race has proved to be especially contentious. The one Supreme Court seat up for grabs statewide in North Carolina is currently held by Republican Barbara Jackson. Her challengers are Democrat Anita Earls and Republican Chris Anglin. Throughout this race, Anglin’s run has been marked by controversy surrounding his party affiliation; the lawyer started his run as a Democrat but changed his political affiliation to Republican in June. The North Carolina General Assembly then passed a law permitting Jackson and Earls to list their party affiliations on the ballot but prevented Anglin from doing so, as the General Assembly expressed concerns that Anglin might split the Republican vote. Anglin then sued the General Assembly, arguing that the action constituted election meddling. Anglin won his case in mid-August and will be listed on the ballot as a Republican.
Anglin's case and its legal resolution has increased dialogue surrounding judge partisanship and the legislature's role in selecting judges. Judicial elections in North Carolina have not always been partisan; the decision to include the political affiliation of a judicial candidate on a ballot has toggled back and forth the past few years. In March of 2017, however, the General Assembly passed a bill that would make all Superior and District court elections partisan, having already passed bill that would make the Supreme Court partisan. Some have argued that including party affiliation on the ballot politicizes the courts and allows for partisan influence in judicial rulings. Many of these critics believe judicial elections should remain non-partisan to allow judges to make morally just decisions without partisan pressure. They also point to the code of ethics judges must follow that requires them to rule without partisan influence. Others say that allowing voters to see party affiliation gives them critical information that is needed to make an informed vote. These proponents believe that judges base their decisions on their own partisan views, and voters should take that into account when they head to the polls.
Judgeships are incredibly important for fair trials and appellate decisions. Ensuring that qualified judges are making these decisions is essential to a free and fair government. Whether or not you believe judicial elections should be partisan is up to you, but this November you will be able to see the party affiliations of all three North Carolina Supreme Court nominees, and you should use that information in the way you see fit.