Political ad vs. Hudson goes too far

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2014

RALEIGH — Writing about a pending three-candidate primary for state Supreme Court justice, I recently mused that the expected bipartisan support for Justice Mark Martin for the chief justice slot might help to deter partisan attacks in other judicial races.
Oh silly me.
Beginning Friday, the same amorphous group that helped to ugly-up the lone 2012 race for Supreme Court justice, an outfit called Justice for All NC, launched an ad attacking Justice Robin Hudson.
Hudson faces two challengers, Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson and Raleigh lawyer Jeanette Doran, in the nonpartisan primary. The two highest vote-getters will advance to the November general election.
The appellate court primaries are nonpartisan only on the ballot.
Hudson is a Democrat; Levinson and Doran are Republicans.

So, it should come as no surprise that the money behind the ad, according to a campaign finance document filed Friday by Justice for All NC, is a group called the Republican State Leadership Committee. The document shows the Washington-based RSLC providing $650,000 to Justice for All NC.
Past donors to the RSLC include Reynolds America, AT&T, Koch Industries and Walmart.
With the ad attacking Hudson, those involved appear to be trying to outdo themselves from two years ago.
The ad accuses Hudson of siding with child molesters, making it perhaps the most despicable political advertisement ever aired in the state.
The basis of the ad is a 2010 court ruling in which the Supreme Court decided whether a state law requiring electronic monitoring of child molesters could be applied to those convicted before the law was passed.
In a 4-3 decision, Hudson sided with the minority, arguing that applying the requirement to those already convicted amounted to an ex-post facto law, something prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.
The ad concentrates on the subject of the state law, not the court focus on the legal principle and the potential to undermine constitutional protections that prevent legislatures from enacting laws and then applying them to any of us for past acts.

Meanwhile, if Martin and his fellow justices believe that they can escape unscathed while sitting silently on the sidelines watching this game of judicial gotcha, they may be sorely mistaken.
It won’t be difficult to rope the rest of the incumbent justices up for re-election into the same game.
Martin, for example, could easily be tied to the Dan River coal ash spill and accused of “siding with polluters” based on a complicated 2013 ruling involving when lawsuits can be brought to stop polluters. Would that be fair? Of course not.
By bringing highly-charged partisan politics into these races, the real losers are the people of North Carolina.
These ads encourage judges to decide cases based on partisan political considerations, and not fair interpretations of the law and constitution.
We expect our legislators and executive branch officials to be ruled by ideology and partisan passions. We don’t expect our judges to be.
Whether they recognize it or not, everyone involved with the ad is undermining a cornerstone of democracy.
Scott Mooneyham writes columns for Capitol Press Association.