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N.C. Supreme Court

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Robert H. (Bob) Edmunds, Jr., the incumbent, was elected to the N.C. Supreme Court in 2000. He previously served two years on the N.C. Court of Appeals, following his election in 1998. A former U.S. attorney, Edmunds has also worked as a private defense lawyer. On a bench of seven, which includes at least two strictly conservative justices, Edmunds is considered by lawyers and lawmakers to be a “mild conservative.”

His minority opinion in State v. Haselden, in which he chastised his colleagues for declining to throw out capital cases that improperly hinged on prosecutors’ invocation of religion, showed that he is capable of ruling independent of ideology. However, Edmunds, a registered Republican, has shown signs of catering to partisan interests on the campaign trail, and there are concerns that Edmunds may be too willing to make conservative decisions in order to remain elected.

Earlier this year, Edmunds told attendees at a Republican campaign event in Watauga County that he is the “one person standing between you and one-party government in North Carolina.” This statement is particularly troubling because Edmunds has consistently ruled with the majority in deciding how North Carolina can assign voting districts, an issue hotly contested along party lines. Most recently, Edmunds wrote the majority opinion in Pender County v. Bartlett, which is now being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The N.C. Supreme Court, under Edmunds, applied a “bright-line rule” in deciding that a voting district in Pender County did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Voting Rights Act, because the minority population was less than 50 percent. It remains to be seen whether this decision will disenfranchise minority voters, or if it correctly interpreted the law, but Edmunds’ unfortunate campaign remarks will likely taint the state court’s ruling.

The Indy endorses Edmunds’ challenger, Suzanne Reynolds, a highly regarded law professor at Wake Forest University who has written the authoritative text on family law in North Carolina. Her scholarly work has shown her to be a strong advocate for alternative sentencing (e.g. mandatory mediation in child-custody cases), and she favors incorporating drug and mental-health courts into the judicial system as a much-needed solution to solving the state’s backlog.

In addition, colleagues describe her as having strong analytical skills, while showing progressive credentials, such as defending civil liberties and LGBT rights. Reynolds has no judicial experience, but her 27 years of teaching and writing about law lend her the necessary vision and discipline to serve on the bench. Though some courtroom observers wish that Reynolds had waited until a more conservative judge was up for re-election, her candidacy in 2008 presents an exciting opportunity that must not be ignored.

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