Many voters don’t realize it, but the most consequential N.C. Supreme Court election in a decade will be decided Nov. 4.
Four of the seven seats – a majority – are on the ballot this fall. So more justices will be elected in one day than will be elected in the eight years that follow. That makes this a singular opportunity for voters to shape the court.
Three Court of Appeals seats are also on the ballot, including one race featuring 19 candidates – believed to be a new high, or low, for North Carolina.
Here’s how we see the races, which are all nonpartisan, at least officially.
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We recommend votes for Mark Martin, Sam J. Ervin IV, Robin Hudson and Cheri Beasley.
We see Chief Justice Mark Martin as the clear choice over Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis. Martin has served on the Supreme Court for 15 years, rising from associate justice to senior associate justice to chief justice. He previously sat on the Court of Appeals and before that was a Superior Court judge.
Five previous chief justices, including both Republicans and Democrats, have endorsed him in this race.
Lewis has never authored an appellate decision, and presiding as chief justice would be a significant leap for her.
The other three races are closer calls.
Both Sam J. (Jimmy) Ervin IV and Bob Hunter are qualified to serve on the court, but we give the nod to Ervin. He comes from a long line of public servants, but has his own impressive credentials: Five years on the Court of Appeals, nearly a decade on the Utilities Commission, 18 years in private practice and impeccable academic degrees from Harvard Law School and Davidson College. He authors clear, well-reasoned decisions without consideration of political implications.
If elected, Hunter would hit the mandatory retirement age during his term and would not be able to serve the whole eight years without a change in the law.
Incumbent Justice Robin Hudson faces a challenge from Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson of Charlotte. Both are capable candidates, but we back Hudson, who has served admirably on the high court the past eight years and on the Court of Appeals for six years before that. She also practiced law for 25 years. She wrote the dissent in one case around reading Miranda rights to children on school grounds; the U.S. Supreme Court sided with her and overturned the N.C. majority’s decision.
Levinson is an accomplished judge who has served in the district and superior courts as well as the Court of Appeals. We were puzzled by his silence during the primary when outside special interests funded a vicious and untruthful attack ad against Hudson.
In the fourth race, incumbent Justice Cheri Beasley is being challenged by Greensboro lawyer Mike Robinson. Beasley has been a judge for the past 16 years, in district court then the Court of Appeals, then the Supreme Court. She is the only African-American on the high court and if she loses, the court would likely be all-white. It would be better served by having a more diverse set of perspectives, and she is well-qualified in any case.
Robinson is a smart and experienced lawyer, having practiced business law for 33 years. He emphasizes that he would be the only justice with that level of familiarity with business law. That would indeed be valuable. But Robinson has never served as a judge at any level, and jumping straight to the Supreme Court would be prodigious.
Court of Appeals
Lucy Inman and Bill Southern are vying for Bob Hunter’s old seat. We recommend Inman, a Superior Court judge with 18 years in private practice and endorsements from past chief justices of both parties. She has extensive experience in civil and criminal cases.
Southern has considerably less experience. He earned his law degree from Texas Southern in 2006, then was elected district court judge in his home county in 2008.
Incumbent Court of Appeals Judge Mark Davis deserves reelection against challenger Paul Holcombe. Davis has been on the appeals court for two years. Prior to that he worked for Womble Carlyle, was a deputy attorney general and general counsel to Gov. Bev Perdue. Both the plaintiffs bar and defense attorneys back him in this race, as do five former chief justices from both parties.
Holcombe is a district court judge in Johnston, Harnett and Lee counties and a former prosecutor.
Then there’s the race with 19 candidates vying for one Court of Appeals seat. Only two – John Arrowood of Charlotte and John Tyson of Fayetteville – have served as judges at that level. We recommend Arrowood. Besides being the only one of the 19 from Mecklenburg County, he has 23 years in private practice and has served on the N.C. Banking Commission, the Rules Review Commission and as a director of the N.C. Railroad. He was well-regarded by his peers when he served on the Court of Appeals.