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(Source: nccourts.org)

Three candidates for the state Supreme Court — current Justices Robin Hudson and Cheri Beasley and Court of Appeals Judge Sam J. Ervin, IV will be holding news conferences today in three cities to discuss the latest influx of “dark money” from outside independent groups hoping to steer the race toward conservative-backed candidates.

As happened during the May primary, outside groups are pouring last-minute money into the coffers of Justice for All NC and its feeder group North Carolina Judicial Coalition for television ads to run throughout the state over these last few days of the election.

On October 24, the Republican State Leadership Committee sent Justice for All $400,000.

And on October 22, the pro-school choice group American Federation for Children gave Justice for All an additional $25,000 (totaling $75,000 so far for this election). That group has a vested interest in the outcome of the school voucher case, now pending before the high court.

(There is a lag time between the date of contributions, the date of filing a notice about them with the state elections board and the date that notice appears on the board’s website.)

Justice for All has already made media buys to run television ads in the Wilmington and Greensboro/High Point areas this week through Nov. 4.  The substance of those ads could not be confirmed as of this post.

The usual suspects are starting to load up the Judicial Coalition too — with tobacco company Reynolds American giving that group $50,000 and the insurance company Medical Mutual, $15,000 this past week.

If the strategy holds true to what happened in the 2012 Supreme Court race between Justice Paul Newby and Judge Ervin, the Judicial Coalition will pass that money on to Justice for All for media buys and other expenses.

As has now been widely reported, Justice for All spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to run an attack ad against Justice Hudson in the days leading up to the May primary, in which Hudson faced off against Republican challengers Eric Levinson and Jeanette Doran.

Political operatives and many judges — here and nationally — called that ad one of the worst attack ads ever.

Here’s New York Times columnist Joe Nocera just yesterday:

One of the most shocking ads aired this political season was aimed at a woman named Robin Hudson.

Hudson, 62, is not a congressional or Senate candidate. Rather, she is a State Supreme Court justice in North Carolina, seeking her second eight-year term.

This ad in North Carolina, which aired during the primary season, was a startling departure. First, the money came from an organization called Justice for All NC — which, in turn, was funded primarily by the Republican State Leadership Committee. That is to say, it was the kind of post-Citizens United money that has flooded the political system and polluted our politics.

And then there was its substance. “We want judges to protect us,” the ad began. The voice-over went on to say that when child molesters sued to stop electronic monitoring, Judge Hudson had “sided with the predators.” It was a classic attack ad.

Not surprisingly, the truth was a bit different. In 2010, the State Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether an electronic-monitoring law could apply to those who had been convicted before it passed. Hudson, in a dissent, wrote that the law could not be applied retroactively.

This year’s Supreme Court races are critically important, not only because four of the seven seats are up for grabs but also because of what the outcome will mean for the direction the court will take for many years to come.

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voteWith just two days remaining to file a notice of candidacy for a seat on the state’s highest court, primaries look likely in at least two races with new candidates throwing their hats in the ring in recent weeks.

Justice Robin Hudson, running for re-election and challenged thus far by Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson, a Republican, now has another contender to face: Jeanette Doran, who filed her notice of candidacy yesterday.

Doran, recently named to head the unemployment benefits review panel, has been the executive director and general counsel of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, an organization long associated with state budget director Art Pope.

By year-end 2013, Justice Hudson had raised $133,000 for her campaign; Judge Levinson had raised $63,000.

And in the race for the seat currently occupied by former Court of Appeals Judge Cheri Beasley, Winston-Salem conservative attorney Mike Robinson has declared his candidacy, joining Beasley and conservative Brunswick County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis. 

By year-end 2013 Justice Beasley had raised $81,000 for her campaign. Judge Lewis, who has yet to file a notice of candidacy, had raised $69,000.

In other races, Justice Mark Martin remains unopposed for the Chief Justice slot, and Court of Appeals judges Bob Hunter and Sam Ervin IV will face off for Martin’s associate justice seat. All have filed notices of candidacy.

Read more here about the upcoming Supreme Court race.

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A professor, an economist and a judge sat in a room, crunched the numbers and reached this conclusion: More often than not, judges (in this case federal judges)  vote along party lines.

So say Lee Epstein, a professor at the University of Southern California, William M. Landes, an economist at the University of Chicago, and Richard A. Posner, a federal appeals court judge in Chicago, in their new book, The Behavior of Federal Judges, previewed in today’s New York Times by Adam Liptak

“Justices appointed by Republican presidents vote more conservatively on average than justices appointed by Democratic ones, with the difference being most pronounced in civil rights cases,” they write in the book.

A recent decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting Michigan’s constitutional ban of affirmative action policies bears out that party allegiance, Liptak notes.  “Every one of the eight judges in the majority was nominated by a Democratic president,” he said. “Every one of the seven judges in dissent was nominated by a Republican president.”

As Liptak adds:

Many judges hate it when news reports note this sort of thing, saying it undermines public trust in the courts by painting them as political actors rather than how they like to see themselves — as disinterested guardians of neutral legal principles.

But there is a lot of evidence that the party of the president who appointed a judge is a significant guide to how that judge will vote on politically charged issues like affirmative action.

True, federal judges are appointed, and perhaps that’s the news peg here, as they’ve long been perceived as above the fray of electoral posturing and politicking.

Is it any different in places where judges are elected?  Nobody’s run the numbers yet,  but one thing’s likely.  Judges who campaign are well-versed in the partisan give-and-take.

 

 

 

 

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Exit polls apparently won’t be able to tell us if the banjo-strumming “Newby – Tough but Fair” ad attracted or alienated voters in the contest between Justice Paul Newby and Court of Appeals Judge Same Ervin IV, but if election results are the test, the ad worked.

Just ask Louisiana-based Innovative Advertising, the self-proclaimed preeminent Gulf South advertising firm which produced the ad and did the media buys for the NC Judicial Coalition and is now touting the ad on its website as “a jingle so funny and catchy that it has become a popular new ringtone in North Carolina.”

The company has plenty of reasons for its swagger, given its payday  from the ad.

The Judicial Coalition, formed to support Newby’s re-election, kept pumping money into ad buys until the very end of the campaign, thanks to  noteworthy  last-minute contributions from the likes of SAS chairman Jim Goodnight, $25,000, and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s PAC, Next Century Fund, $10,000. The state Republican Party also threw in $50,000 in the final days and the NC Chamber, another $25,000 to lift its total to $188,700.

And the pass-through PAC, Justice for All NC, continued funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars  into the Judicial Coalition’s coffers – up to $1.5 million at last count —  thanks to ongoing contributions it received from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which totaled $1,165,000.  Also making late contributions to Justice for All:  Lorillard Tobacco $25,000;  hotel management company, Summit Hospitality Group, $5000; Clinton, NC-based poultry and turkey producer Prestage Farms, $5000; and the trade group NC Health Care Facilities Association, $4000.

Technology, hospitality, tobacco, health care, insurance, education — is there any industry that did not put some dollars toward the re-election of Justice Newby?

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It’s been months since the North Carolina Judicial Coalition sprang on to the election scene as an upstart in the otherwise sleepy world of judicial elections.

State and national media portrayed the super PAC—formed by former state Republican Party chair Tom Fetzer, conservative businessman Bob Luddy (founder of the private Thales Academy schools) and others to help finance the re-election of sitting Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby—as an example of the unlimited campaign spending that could be unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and a particularly dangerous one, given that judges were involved.

Unlike Newby and his Democratic challenger Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV, who’ve both accepted public financing, PACs like the Judicial Coalition have no limits on how much they collect and spend, other than they can’t contribute directly to a candidate committee. They are otherwise free to support or oppose candidates as they see fit.

So what’s the Judicial Coalition been up to since June?

Tough to tell, since it has yet to tell the state board of elections how much money it’s raised and how it’s spent that money. Read More