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News-Record - State Supreme Court Justice Takes the High Road

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News-Record - State Supreme Court Justice Takes the High Road

Compliments to the Greater Guilford Republican Forum for hosting N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds at its luncheon Wednesday.

Edmunds, a Greensboro resident, is running for re-election.

Edmunds has an easygoing manner and clearly was comfortable with this group. He spoke mostly about campaign issues, but definitely not in the way a candidate for a political office would talk. Anyone in the audience who wanted to hear some Republican red-meat rhetoric didn't get it from Edmunds. During a Q&A period, the justice passed on opportunities to go after those liberal, activist judges that a lot of conservatives just know are wrecking our courts.

Not that he's seen in his 10 years on the bench, Edmunds said.

"It's not a political philosophy that drives what we do," he said of the North Carolina appellate courts. "It's devotion to the rule of law. The more I see of the game from the inside, the more impressed I am with the people who do the job the way it should be done."

North Carolina's judiciary is nonpartisan, Edmunds reminded the Republicans. That said, he noted that the parties are involved. His opponent announced her candidacy at a Democratic Party event, he said.

That's Wake Forest law professor Suzanne Reynolds, who disavowed partisan politics in an interview with me a couple of months ago, but Edmunds is right -- the parties choose sides on a partisan basis.

(And Reynolds wasn't invited to appear at Wednesday's luncheon.)

Edmunds said he doesn't discriminate when it comes to meeting voters: "I've been to Democratic events. If I'm invited and I can make it, I'll show up."

Judicial candidates can't afford to turn down opportunities to get before crowds. Those, like Edmunds and Reynolds, who are participating in public campaign financing have only about $250,000 to work with. Does that sound like plenty? "It doesn't pay for a single mailing to all the voters of this state," Edmunds said.

The judges count on voters seeing the voter's guide put out by the State Board of Elections, hope that the media will pay attention to their races and also rely on word-of-mouth endorsements, largely from lawyers.

"In my race, I am delighted if people ask lawyers because I think I win that race," Edmunds said.

His experience includes work in Guilford County as an assistant district attorney, then an assistant U.S. attorney. He was U.S. attorney for this district from 1986 to 1992, then practiced law privately until his election to the N.C. Court of Appeals in 1998. Two years later, he was elected to an eight-year term on the U.S. Supreme Court. In my observation, he's been part of a centrist majority made up of Republicans and Democrats during that time. Edmunds invited listeners to read his opinions, which are available on his Web site.

His earlier elections were partisan. Now all judicial contests are nonpartisan. The change, plus the shift to public financing, present challenges. Ideally, the courts will become a little more insulated from partisan politics and special-interest influence. But systemic changes can only work if the judges and judicial candidates themselves respect the initent behind them and resist the temptation to plunge into the hot-button political issues -- no matter what anybody else does.

"I think we judicial candidates can't be a part of a race to the bottom. ... People expect us to be fair," Edmunds said.

Edmunds did his part to elevate the discussion Wednesday. Let's hope all our judicial races can be conducted on a high plane this year.


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