NOTHSTINE: On the judiciary

Writing to Edward Livingston, Thomas Jefferson advised: “One single object, if your provision attains it, will entitle you to the endless gratitude of society; that of restraining judges from usurping legislation.” Livingston was setting up a judicial system in Louisiana, and Jefferson long feared judicial tyranny, once saying it would make the Constitution a “thing of wax.”States, especially ones with citizens who wish to deviate from federal encroachment, have become the greatest victims of the usurping of law. In North Carolina, striking down common-sense and popular voter ID laws is just one example. After all, what is the point of an enduring self-government if power is stripped from the people by judges?It’s essential for voters to discern candidates’ judicial philosophy. Too many voters don’t pay enough attention to judicial elections, which harms the separation of powers and rule of law. The highest profile judicial race in North Carolina, is of course, Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds, pitted against challenger Mike Morgan.President Barack Obama raised the profile of the race with his endorsement of Morgan. While the race is technically nonpartisan, Morgan has made a point of highlighting his Democratic Party allegiances. Edmunds himself noted Morgan said it was important “his party” take control of the state Supreme Court. Ironically, Morgan has accused Edmunds of politicizing the court.One anti-Edmunds ad has been critical of his decision to uphold the majority-minority 12th Congressional District. The 12th District, originally given its serpentine shape with the support of black lawmakers in a Democrat-controlled legislature, runs like a snake from Greensboro to Charlotte. Minority-majority districts were required by the U.S. Justice Department to essentially provide black citizens with black lawmakers. While the Republican legislature did pack in more black voters, the district survived U.S. Department of Justice reviews, and Edmunds was only affirming current precedent and law on redistricting.The racially charged criticism of Edmunds for the district points to the hyper-politicization of the race. Majority-minority gerrymandered districts have a complex legal history and have support from many liberal interest groups.Morgan has reiterated the Supreme Court election is the most important race on the North Carolina ballot, while Edmunds has preferred to say the race should be lower profile and about judicial philosophy. Edmunds talks more about judicial restraint, while Morgan talks about fairness and empathy. The president and many special interest groups have weighed in: the stakes are high.Voters should pay attention to all the nuances of the candidates’ arguments for the bench. Localities and state governments are increasingly pushed aside by federal edicts. Listen for judges who sound like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who noted, “I just think we should interpret the Constitution as it’s drafted, not as we would have drafted it.”