News: CJ Exclusives

Supreme Court candidates face off in unusual three-candidate forum

N.C. Supreme Court candidates Anita Earls, Chris Anglin, and Barbara Jackson answer questions Oct. 23, 2018, during a Federalist Society forum in Raleigh.
N.C. Supreme Court candidates Anita Earls, Chris Anglin, and Barbara Jackson answer questions Oct. 23, 2018, during a Federalist Society forum in Raleigh.

North Carolina Supreme Court

Hon. Barbara Jackson, Republican. (One-term incumbent). Education: B.A. and law degrees from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Occupation: Supreme Court justice. Career highlights: Judge for five years on N.C. Court of Appeals, general counsel for the N.C. Commissioner of Labor, deputy general counsel for N.C. Governor’s Advocacy Council for Persons with Disabilities.

Chris Anglin, Republican. Education: Wake Forest University and Elon University Law School. Occupation: Private practice attorney. Career highlights: Small business owner, seven years experience across civil, criminal, and family law in both state and federal courts.

Anita Earls, Democrat: Education: B.A. from Williams College and J.D. from Yale Law School. Occupation: Civil rights attorney. Career highlights: Founder and executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the race for a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court, voters are the highest-ranking judges. But the final ruling on winners and losers this year may be complicated by legislative shenanigans, and by private attorney Chris Anglin, a wild card candidate who may split the vote between incumbent Republican Justice Barbara Jackson and Democratic challenger Anita Earls.

The three contenders debated their positions and made thinly veiled jabs among themselves during an Oct. 23 debate hosted in Raleigh by The Federalist Society, a conservative-leaning nonpartisan organization of lawyers and legal scholars focused on civil discourse in public policy. John Locke Foundation Vice President of Marketing and Communications Donna Martinez moderated the debate.

You can watch the debate, preceded by a forum including statements from six of the seven candidates for the N.C. Court of Appeals, by clicking on the video below.

Democrats hold a 4-3 advantage on the Supreme Court. If Earls wins, the Democratic lead would go to 5-2.

Incumbent Jackson, who has written about 700 opinions during her time on the court, is running on a platform of experience and commitment to the rule of law.

Earls, whose resume spans a wide array of work in civil rights law and advocacy, is running to ensure a fair and impartial jury, increased access to justice, and elimination of unjust racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Chris Anglin, a one-time registered Democrat who switched to a Republican label before entering the race in July, said he was “running to show that partisan elections lead to candidates and results that are not reflective of the constitution.”

A law passed this year by the General Assembly will affect partisan play in the race. Senate Bill 3, which passed over Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, restored the partisan affiliation of judicial candidates on ballots. The General Assembly eliminated judicial primaries for this election cycle so several candidates from the same party could run against each other in the general election. Some, including former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr — who Anglin repeatedly cites as a role model — called the legislation “too clever by half.”

Anglin opposes partisan elections for judges and has made the issue a key point in his campaign. Jackson leans toward nonpartisan races, stating they better uphold the spirit of the judiciary and the rule of law. Earls said a party label could provide voters with helpful information, but she said there should be no such thing as a Democratic or Republican judge once the person is elected.

Judges shouldn’t legislate from the bench, but should interpret the law first on how it is written, then on precedent, depending on the nature of the case, Earls said.

Jackson agreed the judiciary isn’t the policy arm of state government, but countered that law should be interpreted according to word only.

Advocacy isn’t the role of judges, Earl said in response to a question about whether she would abandon her activist role if elected.

Anglin cited Orr’s influence on his career.

“[E]ven though he was Republican,” Anglin said, “he was always fair … and did not show any sort of partisan favoritism to Republicans.”

Jackson challenged that comment. Anglin countered he was only referencing his desire to follow Orr’s example of nonpartisan professionalism.

Polling on the race shows a general lack of voter awareness of the candidates.

The most recent poll from the conservative Civitas Institute, scheduled for release today, put Earls in a comfortable lead, with 40 percent of the vote. Jackson was second with 16 percent, while Anglin had only 10 percent support. Roughly a third of those surveyed — 34 percent — either were undecided or refused to respond.

A Spectrum News poll from early October had Earls with 43-percent support. Anglin came in second at 22 percent, with Jackson only 15 percent. Twenty-one percent were undecided.

An average voter isn’t likely to research each judicial candidate, but will check boxes according to political affiliation. Anglin’s spot as the only male Republican candidate may divide conservative voters,, said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University.