Published July 1, 2022
By Tom Campbell
There’s not much middle ground regarding the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. I’ve listened to some praising our Justices as well as others, usually louder, vilifying them. But after the rhetoric wanes a bit there’s one common ground on which most all can agree: elections matter.
As often as not the focus turns to the US Supreme Court and the power of a president to nominate potential justices. Donald Trump appointed three, enough to determine the outcome of the latest abortion decision.
Abortion will be on the ballot in North Carolina’s US Senate contest between former Republican Congressman Ted Budd and former Democratic Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. Hoping to parlay current strong emotions against the decision into votes, Beasley proclaims that if elected she will join efforts to pass legislation allowing nationwide abortion. Budd is toeing the conservative Republican line in celebrating the court decision. This race is tight. Recent polling has Budd with a narrow four-point lead. The question becomes who can energize the voters to turn out. November is many months away and emotions may wane. While important, the major issue in this race is control of the Senate. Democrats now hold a razor thin plurality in the US Senate and our contest could be the swing vote. It’s already an expensive and nasty fight.
It is unknown how the recent court decision might impact all 14 congressional races in our state. Democrats will try to arouse the abortion sentiment, but the economy will be a major focus by Republican candidates. Again, North Carolina’s congressional races could be pivotal in determining which party controls the US House.
We also cannot predict whether the Roe decision will have an impact on critical appellate court elections in our state. Two Democratic justices on our Supreme Court have terms expiring this year. Robin Hudson chose not to run for another term because she is nearing the mandatory retirement age. Democrat Lucy Inman and Republican Richard Dietz, both judges on the Court of Appeals, will be vying for Hudson’s seat. Incumbent justice Sam Ervin, IV, will be facing Republican Trey Allen for the other seat. Democrats now hold slim 4-3 plurality on the high court. A single Republican win could result in a tie vote on crucial verdicts and if Democrats lose both seats, partisan control of the court swings Republican. There was a time when party affiliation wasn’t so important in verdict outcomes, but that time has passed.
Four of our 15 Court of Appeals seats are up for grabs. Lower court rulings are appealed to this level, with three judge panels assigned to consider each case. Partisan rulings on this court are not usually as noticeable, but party affiliations in the makeup of those panels sometimes determines who wins or loses. If Democrats have a strong year it could lessen the current Republican 10-5 plurality.
I cannot pass up the opportunity to once again proclaim that the election of North Carolina appellate court judges is archaic, promotes partisan divisions and does not serve justice. As things now stand voters readily admit they don’t know the qualifications or records of those on the ballot; their primary determinant appears to be party affiliation. How does this serve justice? It doesn’t. Justice isn’t blind, no matter how much we want to believe it to be.
Lower down the ballot, but equally important, is the election of all 170 members of our General Assembly. It matters which party has more numbers because that party selects leadership. More importantly, the margin of that plurality is important. North Carolina currently has a governor of one party and the majority of both our House and Senate of another party. In mid-term elections the party of the sitting president usually loses many seats.
Consider the consequences regarding abortion. North Carolina still allows abortions to take place, but Republican leadership is already indicating that if they retain control of the legislature next year, they intend to revisit those laws. You have to know that Governor Roy Cooper will veto any serious changes, so the numbers of that plurality become the real determinant. If Republicans have veto-proof or three-fifths majorities, they can override his veto. If not, his decision will be sustained. Cooper has issued more vetoes than any previous governor and since 2018, the last mid-term wave election, all have been upheld
Who will have the passion? Who will raise the most money and get out the vote? As we said at the beginning of this piece, elections matter… and never more so than this year.
The decisions are in our hands.