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All rise for political shenanigans

When former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot saw the TV attack ad against Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson, he was appalled. “Despicable,” he called it in an email to the Observer editorial board.

The ad is so offensive that Vinroot, a diehard Republican, said he will protest it by voting for the Democrat Hudson.

It’s an understandable response. The ad, part of a multi-million dollar trend of out-of-state money influencing N.C. Supreme Court races, is a cheap-shot attempt at bouncing Hudson out of office despite her long record as a respected jurist. It uses the tried-and-true foreboding background music combined with grainy, haunting images to try to portray Hudson as a friend to child molesters.

It’s troubling that neither of Hudson’s opponents – the qualified Eric Levinson nor the unqualified Jeannette Doran – has had the decency to publicly disavow the ad as irresponsible and deserving of repudiation. They didn’t pay for it, but they stand to benefit.

The ad, running on television across the state, suggests that Hudson is sympathetic to child predators. The facts of her 2010 dissent, not surprisingly, are more complicated. The case was about whether a new law could apply to a person who was convicted before the law was on the books. The law required convicted sex offenders to wear ankle bracelets and GPS devices on their waist for life and be restricted in other ways.

All seven justices agreed that if the law was designed to punish versus just administratively track offenders, it could not be applied retroactively. The justices split 4-3 on whether it was punitive, with Hudson in the minority.

It’s a legitimate constitutional question but says nothing about Hudson’s desire to protect children. The TV ad suggests the majority was being tough on crime and Hudson wasn’t; but in fact it was the four justices in the majority who argued that the law wasn’t punitive, which was crucial to their decision.

The ad was paid for by Justice for All NC PAC, a group funded entirely by the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington. Some of its big contributors include Duke Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

No question: North Carolina has joined those states where outside groups with special interest agendas plow millions of dollars into an effort to buy seats on the state’s highest court. It started in earnest in 2012, when Justice Paul Newby benefited from some $2.3 million in outside spending.

That hundreds of thousands of dollars is being spent on an obscure primary at the bottom of the ballot tells you there’s a lot at stake. Corporations that could have cases before the Supreme Court are funneling millions on certain candidates’ behalf. They may look distinguished sitting at the dais in their black robes, but don’t think they won’t remember who helped them get there.

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