Robert Holt Edmunds Jr. has served as a North Carolina Supreme Court justice since 2001.
Justice Edmunds recently stopped by The Daily Record during his campaign for re-election, and we asked him what it's like to have a job in which your decisions affect the lives of nearly everyone in the state.
Judge Edmunds, 59, lives in Greensboro with his wife, Linda, and has two adult sons, John and Edward. He is a former North Carolina Court of Appeals judge, U.S. attorney for the North Carolina Middle District, assistant U.S. attorney for the same, assistant district attorney in Guilford County, partner in the Greensboro law firm Stern & Klepfer, and an ensign in the U.S. Navy, to name just a few of his accomplishments.
Because North Carolina Supreme Court Justices serve eight-year terms, this is his first campaign for re-election.
Q: I fought off the urge to ask you if you wear pants under your robe.
A: (Laughing) "Yeah, boxers or briefs, huh?"
Q: So, how's it been the last eight years on the bench?
A: "It's been great. It's one of those jobs where you don't know what to expect until you get there. There's a lot of reading and writing involved, which I love, but hanging out with the bailiffs and the lawyers, the courthouse, I kind of miss that.
"But then the intellectual part of this job, I really love that."
Q: What drew you to the law?
A: "Well, I can't say I always wanted to be a lawyer. I graduated as an English major (from Vasser College). One thing about the law is that you can come to it from many backgrounds. Going to law school (at UNC Chapel Hill) was a way to give me three more years to figure out what I was going to do.
"After I graduated from law school I joined the Navy. It was during my first job as a lawyer, I was a prosecutor in Guilford County after I got out of the Navy, when I really realized I enjoyed law."
Q: So you didn't decide to become a Supreme Court justice?
A: "I really didn't see this coming. I wanted to be a trial judge, a Superior Court judge. In my home district of Guilford, that would have meant I'd have had to run against Judge Catherine Eagles, but she's an excellent judge and there was no justification for that.
"But there was the opportunity for me to run for the Court of Appeals and I did. I was later solicited to run for the Supreme Court in 2000. I've been very blessed."
Q: What are some of the most important decisions you've helped make while on the bench?
A: "The Supreme Court is the guardian of the constitution. The cases that get to us are the hard ones that affect everyone. Taxes, certificates of need ... annexation, that's a big one in certain areas right now.
"So getting the answers is critically important. If we make a mistake, it can't be changed. That's why there are seven nonpartisan justices on the court, and we all work together to try to make the right decision. The people of North Carolina can be assured these issues get the attention they deserve."
Q: What do you feel was the most important case for citizens that you've helped decide?
A: "The budget crisis ... (when Gov. Mike Easley intercepted money that was to go to the Highway Trust Fund and used it to balance the 2001-2002 budget). The decision was that citizens have the right to bring a lawsuit to compel the (state) government to spend its tax monies legally. Taxes for the Highway Trust Fund are specifically to be used for highways and when it's taken out to use to balance the budget, that's improper.
"Also, death penalty cases come straight to us at the Supreme Court. I'm particularly careful with these cases because everyone is playing for keeps."
Q: Is it hard campaigning for statewide office in a race that doesn't get much media attention?
A: "I have to work hard at it, take the initiative and stop by and see folks. Another hard part is even though I'm a candidate, I can't let my case load slip.
"The thing is, these races can have as much impact on people as governors' races, but we don't get a lot of attention. We're at the bottom of the ballot and non-partisan."
Q: Being that it's a nonpartisan position, are you allowed to state your political affiliation?
A: "Certainly. I'm Republican. But I have strong bipartisan support. I know everyone says that, but if there's any questions, they can check on the Web site (www.reelectjusticeedmunds.com). There's about as many Democrats who support me as Republicans."
Q: Do you have to be careful about stating your opinion on subjects in public, even in social situations?
A: "Oh yes. People obviously want to talk to us and we have to be careful. We have to be careful that lawyers who are coming to the court know they're going to get a fair opinion. We don't want to find ourselves committed to one opinion and have them (lawyers) say, 'Justice Edmunds, you should recuse yourself from this case because on such and such a date you said ...'
"There's some jobs where your opinion doesn't matter, but in this job your opinion counts."
Q: What would you like for voters to know about you? Why should you be re-elected?
A: "What I'd like to emphasize is the importance of experience. Judges get their jobs generally because they've been around, have seen a lot.
"I've been a judge, a partner in a law firm, a presidentially-appointed U.S. attorney, a naval officer, a Court of Appeals judge. All that informs my work as a Supreme Court justice.
"I've been on the court for eight years now and I know the job. The people of North Carolina really need someone with experience in the position. I also want people to know I feel it's an honor and a privilege for me to serve on the Supreme Court."