By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH – Voters who flock to the polls certain of their choice for president or governor are rarely as confident when they see judicial races on the ballot.
“These candidates are not high profile, but that doesn’t mean these elections aren’t important,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, Executive Director of the Christian Action League. “Christians can’t afford to become apathetic, especially when it comes to the role of North Carolina’s high court.”
Cary attorney Anthony J. Biller, a member of the Christian Legal Society, agrees.
“This year, there is a particularly important race, in my opinion,” Biller wrote in a mailing to colleagues last week.
Elected to the N.C. Supreme Court in 2000, Edmunds will face Wake Forest University law professor Suzanne Reynolds in the Nov. 4 election.
Reynolds has been endorsed by the North Carolina National Organization for Women, the North Carolina Association of Educators, the Muslim American Society and Equality NC, a statewide organization promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, among other organizations.
Though Biller concedes that Reynolds is “intelligent and by all accounts a professional and very likeable person,” he points out that she is also “a very liberal jurist, cast in the mold of Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsberg.”
In fact, they teach constitutional law together, according to Reynolds’ Web site, www.suzannereynolds.org.
Biller contends that Reynolds’ legal positions match her professional associations, pointing out an amicus curiae brief she filed to the N.C. Court of Appeals last year, arguing that the ex-lesbian partner of a biological mother should be granted joint visitation rights with the child. She also is active with the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, a group that opposes a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman and opposes restrictions on abortion.
At the other end of the spectrum, Edmunds’ endorsements include the N.C. Fraternal Order of Police, the N.C. Troopers Association, 89 sheriffs from across the state, five current and former U.S. Senators and four former chief justices of the court where he has served for the past eight years.
“Justice Edmunds has been a steady, conservative jurist on the bench and has done an excellent job interpreting and judging the laws of our State,” Biller wrote.
Newspapers from Asheville to Wilmington have recommended the longtime Greensboro resident citing his extensive experience, careful methodical work and clearly written opinions. Prior to his election to the N.C. Supreme Court, Edmunds was a judge on the N.C. Court of Appeals for two years and spent five years in private practice specializing in criminal law. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina in 1986 and served in that capacity for seven years.
A Navy veteran and a former assistant district attorney, Edmunds is equally proud of his role as husband and father of two grown sons.
“Having a family has meant trying to teach my children the same principles my parents taught me about integrity and dependability,” Edmunds said. “My parents taught me the value of hard work and honesty.”
Edmunds’ also cited his faith among his formative experiences.
“One of the things that keeps me rooted is my church,” he said. “… Going there every Sunday, keeps me centered. It’s a part of the week I cherish, just to relax, to contemplate and pray.”
Edmunds completed his undergraduate degree at Vassar College and his Juris Doctor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. He earned his Master of Laws in the Judicial Process at the University of Virginia School of Law in 2004. Beyond the classroom, his experience includes trying federal cases ranging from drug trafficking to credit card fraud, presenting cases to U.S. grand juries and testifying before Congress as a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“All of this experience informs what I do on the Supreme Court. I realize how important it is to know what goes on in the trial courts and lawyers’ offices,” Edmunds said. “That’s why I think that if the Court lost me, it would lose its most experienced member with a background in criminal law.”
It would also lose it’s current balance, Biller wrote.
According to Rev. Creech, a Supreme Court without Edmunds could open doors to a constitutional challenge of North Carolina’s marriage laws and could lead to a more liberal interpretation of a number of cases, not the least of which is one involving the state’s lottery.
“What people need to consider is that since North Carolina does not have a Marriage Amendment (Our State Constitution doesn’t define marriage as between one man and one woman.), if a same-sex couple challenged the state law as unconstitutional, we could have the same situation here, if we have a liberal court, that happened in California or in Massachusetts,” Creech said.
For obvious ethical reasons, judicial candidates do not campaign on specific cases or issues, and Edmunds stressed that every case is unique as he and his six fellow justices examine how the facts and the law fit together. Even so, his description of the process underscores the importance of his Constitutional philosophy, which he says lies closer to the “strict constructionist” camp than those regarding the Constitution as a “living document.”
“My belief tends to be that the founding fathers who drafted the Constitution knew what they were doing,” Edmunds said.
He and his associates on the N.C. Supreme Court hear death penalty cases and any cases that are not unanimously decided by the three-member panels of the state’s Court of Appeals.
“When we start with a case, we start with the Constitutions, both the state and the federal … then we look at the statutes, the laws passed by the General Assembly,” Edmunds said. “I may not always like it, but as long as it was voted on by the majority of the General Assembly and it is Constitutional, that’s the law and we are going to apply it.”
Thirdly, the justices examine prior case law.
“We try to figure out if this issue has been before the Court before and if so, how did we handle it,” Edmunds said. “Judges have the power to change the law, but we are terribly reluctant to do that.”
In addition to the types of cases mentioned above, the N.C. Supreme Court also may choose to hear other cases by discretionary review.
“Lawyers file a brief petition saying ‘here’s the case, here’s the history and this is why the Supreme Court should review it,'” Edmund said. “We circulate those memoranda every month and we vote to decide which ones should be taken.”
“I think it is one of the most important things we do,” he added. “It really does help decide what the law is in North Carolina.”
As Edmunds campaigns to keep his seat on the Supreme Court, he reminds voters that “service on the highest court in North Carolina is not an entry level position.”
To find out more about this candidate, log on to www.reelectjusticeedmunds.com.