North Carolinians are losing faith that their courts are fair, largely because the legislature has done so much to politicize the judiciary. Voters will elect a Supreme Court justice and three Court of Appeals judges amid that backdrop. Fortunately, though, voters have almost nothing but good choices before them.
Here’s how we see the four races.
NC Supreme Court
Barbara Jackson seeks a second term and faces a challenge from Anita Earls and Chris Anglin. Jackson and Earls are both qualified (and Anglin is not), but we think Earls is the best choice.
Jackson, a Republican, was a Court of Appeals judge for five years and has been an NC Supreme Court justice for eight years. She has been a fine justice and her experience is valuable.
We are appalled, though, at a TV ad she produced in this campaign that rails against “out of control liberal judges,” pleads to “stop the liberals” and touts “Barbara Jackson, a proven conservative.” Jackson claims to be concerned about public perceptions that the judiciary is not impartial at the very moment she is making an ad that forcefully fuels that perception.
She has also erred in some of her decisions on the bench, including when she used tortured reasoning to keep legislative Republicans’ communications about redistricting private.
Earls, a Williams College and Yale Law graduate, has a sharp legal mind and has been a forceful advocate for decades. She founded and led the Southern Coalition for Social Justice for the past decade, fighting for civil rights and equal access. We think she has the potential to be an outstanding justice and so we recommend her. Our only hesitancy is whether Earls, a Democrat, will let her undeniably liberal views influence her impartiality on the bench. She insists she won’t, and we hope she doesn’t.
Anglin, who switched from Democrat to Republican shortly before filing and threatens to split the GOP vote, has a checkered past and a less sophisticated grasp of the law than either Earls or Jackson.
Court of Appeals, Seat 1
Court of Appeals Judge John Arrowood of Charlotte faces a challenge from Andrew Heath. Both are capable, and we give a slight nod to Arrowood because of his experience on the court.
Arrowood, a Democrat, has twice been appointed to the appeals court. In those stints, he has authored close to 200 opinions and dissents. He also clerked and was senior staff attorney to the court early in his career. He practiced a variety of types of law during a 25-year career at James, McElroy and Diehl in Charlotte. He was one of only two appellate candidates to receive the endorsement of both the plaintiffs’ group and the defense attorneys’ group.
Heath, 37 and a Republican, has built an impressive resume. He was Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director and chaired the state Industrial Commission. McCrory appointed him to be a Superior Court judge, which he has done for the past two years. He is impressive and has a bright future, but Arrowood has the more relevant experience in this race.
Court of Appeals, Seat 2
Two District Court judges – Republicans Jefferson Griffin and Sandra Ray – are running against appellate attorney Toby Hampson for an open seat. We think Hampson is the best choice.
Hampson, a Democrat, has dedicated his career to practicing in the Court of Appeals and N.C. Supreme Court. He clerked at the appeals court before going into private practice, and has done appellate work for the past 14 years. He co-leads his firm’s appellate practice group and is certified by the state bar as a specialist in appellate practice. He says he is the counsel of record on 186 different decisions from the court of appeals and Supreme Court. Judges and lawyers who work with him closely tout his ability and breadth of experience.
Griffin, a judge in Wake County, and Ray, a judge in New Hanover and Pender counties, have judicial experience but lack the experience at the appellate level that Hampson has.
Court of Appeals, Seat 3
Republican Chuck Kitchen, Democrat Allegra Collins and Libertarian Michael Monaco are running for an open seat. Kitchen and Collins are the most qualified, and we give a slight nod to Kitchen.
Kitchen has practiced law for 38 years, including 30 years as county attorney for Alamance County and then Durham County. That has given him experience with a wide range of cases, including in appellate courts. His experience with local government law would be rare, and welcome, on the Court of Appeals.
Collins is also qualified, though with a very different background. She is a full-time professor at Campbell University Law School, teaching students to write appellate briefs and opinions in appellate cases. She clerked for Judge Linda Stephens at the Court of Appeals and was a court reporter for the NC Supreme Court. She has also practiced appellate law for the past four years.
Read the Observer editorial board’s endorsements in other races here.