The Crucial NC Race No One's Talking About

Oct 16, 2016

North Carolina has been a prime focus of both presidential campaigns.  The ballot this year will also include hotly contested races for Governor and US Senate.  Down-ballot races have gotten less attention, but could be just as critical.  One of those is the race for state Supreme Court.  While the race is officially non-partisan, the ideological split of the court is on the line.  Associate Justice Bob Edmunds is up for re-election, with Republicans holding a slim 4-3 majority on the court.  Edmunds is a registered Republican.  His opponent, Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan, is a registered Democrat.   

Both Edmunds and Morgan spoke with me about the election.  Edmunds joined me in person at WCQS, and Morgan was able to talk to me from the studios of WUNC in Chapel Hill.  Those full conversations are above.  I've highlighted some of the key discussion points below.  (I've placed Edmunds' responses first because he's the incumbent.)  

NC Supreme Court Redistricting Ruling

One of the split decisions rendered by the court was for a case, Dickson v. Rucho, challenging North Carolina districts drawn by Republican lawmakers on racial grounds.  Bob Edmunds wrote the majority opinion upholding those districts.  They were ultimately overthrown by a federal appeals court, but not in time for this election.  I spoke at length about that ruling with both Edmunds and Morgan.  Their responses are below.

NC Supreme Court ruling on school vouchers 

Another split decision concerned school vouchers.  Republican lawmakers approved a program by which money would be provided for vouchers to send low-income students in low-performing schools to private schools.  The court upheld the voucher program over criticism that it would hurt public schools.  The legislature has since expanded the program.  Morgan called the ruling "disappointing."  Edmunds defended it.   

 Two times where judge recusals were an issue.

One of the more interesting aspects of this race is that it almost never happened.  Lawmakers passed a bill that would have allowed for a retention election.  In that scenario, Edmunds would have run on an up-or-down vote without an opponent.  The law was criticized as a ploy to keep Edmunds on the court, and to keep Republicans in control.  It was challenged in court and thrown out.  When it was appealed to the state Supreme Court itself, Edmunds recused himself, and a split 3-3 decision allowed the ruling to stand.  Edmunds says he had nothing to do with the bill and had no contact with the legislature concerning it.  

Meanwhile, Judge Morgan faced his own question of whether to recuse himself in a case concerning voter ID.  North Carolina's voter ID law was thrown out by the courts, but there were multiple challenges, and Morgan was overseeing one of those cases (not the one that was ruled on).  The conservative group Civitas Institute said Morgan should recuse himself from the case, as it could impact Morgan's own race.  But Morgan declined, saying he checked with the NC Judicial Standards Commission and was assured there was no conflict of interest.  His full comments on the issue are below.

Early voting in North Carolina takes place between October 20th and November 5th.  During that time, voters can register and vote at the same time.  Election day is November 8th.  There is no registration allowed on election day.  You can visit your county board of elections website for schedules and locations of early voting sites.  You can visit the NC board of elections website for more information and to check on your own voter registration.