The cost of a seat on North Carolina’s highest court

Updated
 

Justices on the North Carolina Supreme Court are elected, though the non-partisan races generally don’t generate a lot of interest from voters, and the candidates tend to rely on public financing. This year, however, will apparently be quite different.

The seven-member court generally leans to the right thanks to a four-member conservative bloc, but that majority is in jeopardy with Justice Paul Newby facing a credible challenge this year from state Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV.

To help ensure Newby remains on the state’s highest court, a new Republican-led super PAC is getting to work in North Carolina. Raleigh’s News & Observer reports the entity, innocuously named the “N.C. Judicial Coalition,” is “ramping up fundraising” on Newby’s behalf, taking advantage of the ability “to raise and spend unlimited money” (thanks to James Carter for the tip).

Firmly in the conservative camp – [Newby] raised eyebrows in 2005 when he was spotted attending a rally for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage – his swearing-in ceremony was attended by some of the leaders of the state’s Christian conservative political movement. During his campaign he stressed his conservative views, and advocated judicial restraint.

In 2010, Newby wrote for the court majority in voiding a state senator’s adoption of her former domestic partner’s biological child, closing an avenue for same-sex couples to adopt. The previous year, Newby also sided with the majority in ruling that the state medical board couldn’t stop doctors from participating in prisoner executions, in which they monitor the procedure.

In another case, Newby again wrote for the majority of the court an opinion that said a Durham couple couldn’t sue an out-of-state company accused of predatory lending, a 4-3 ruling that upset consumer-protection advocates.

So, the right wants to keep an unabashed, proudly-biased conservative on the bench, and to do so, they’re using a super PAC to raise unlimited money, receiving support from all kinds of donors – some of whom may end up with business in front of Newby and the rest of the state Supreme Court.

Lobbyist Tom Fetzer, the former chairman of the state Republican Party and a leader of this new super PAC, told the local paper, “I happen to think that this election is one of the most important in the state this year.”

I’m sure he does.

Perhaps North Carolina, among other states, should pause to consider the propriety of judicial elections themselves? Shouldn’t the creation of state Supreme Court super PACs represent some kind of systemic red flag?

North Carolina

The cost of a seat on North Carolina's highest court

Updated