- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - There will be one race on every ballot in North Carolina’s previously unscheduled June 7 primary because the state Supreme Court couldn’t agree whether a law that led a colleague to seek re-election through a new method complied with the state constitution.

Justices deadlocked 3-3 this month on a lower court ruling that struck down the law giving Associate Justice Robert Edmunds of Greensboro the option to run alone for a new term in November and try to keep his job based on an up-or-down vote of support.

That kept February’s decision of three trial judges intact, thus returning the election to a traditional head-to-head race. Edmunds and three challengers - Sabra Jean Faires of Cary, Michael Morgan of Raleigh and Daniel Robertson of Advance - are candidates on the primary ballot that also will include delayed congressional primaries in most parts of the state. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election.

The “retention election” law has an intrinsic role in the campaign. Faires filed the lawsuit challenging the concept, saying it prevented her from challenging Edmunds, who has served on the state’s highest court since 2001.

In a campaign video, Faires blames “Raleigh politicians” for passing the law “to stack the membership of the court and protect the incumbent.” While North Carolina judicial elections are officially nonpartisan, four out of the seven justices are registered Republicans, including Edmunds. Morgan and Robertson are registered Democrats. Faires is registered as unaffiliated.

Robertson said in an interview he got into the race because of the retention law, which he called “another example of politics improperly intruding itself into the judiciary.”

Legislators backing the law said there was no ulterior political motive, but rather the chance to try a new election option that’s been a component of previous merit-selection proposals and is used by other states.

Edmunds said in an interview the retention election law was a surprise to him, and he never had any contact with legislators about it. He decided to run under the method and was recused from the court’s litigation deliberations.

Edmunds, who won another eight-year term to the court in 2008, is a former U.S. attorney and local assistant prosecutor who served briefly on the state Court of Appeals. He highlights endorsements from former state chief justices and most county sheriffs. Edmunds is the lone candidate with Supreme Court experience and points to the scores of opinions he has written on significant topics.

“You don’t have to guess what kind of justice I will be. My record is an open book,” Edmunds said in a video. “If I were not good at my job, you’d know it by now.”

Edmunds cited a ruling he wrote last November upholding a state law prohibiting registered sex offenders from using social networking sites that minors can join. He’s also penned recent majority opinions upholding the 2011 congressional and legislative maps drawn by Republicans but striking down parts of a GOP law ending job protections of public school teachers.

Faires, a private-practice lawyer who previously was a General Assembly staff attorney for lawmakers of both parties, said she will be an “independent voice” on the court and won’t worry whether decisions advance the agenda of any political party.

Morgan, a Wake County Superior Court judge since 2005, previously served as a District Court judge, administrative law judge and state Department of Justice attorney. He also has taught for more than 20 years at the National Judicial College, which trains judges and court personnel.

“I am unusually seasoned and qualified to capably address the variety of legal matters which come before the Supreme Court,” Morgan wrote on his website.

Robertson, recently general counsel for a North Carolina-based community bank, cites his work as a clerk for three federal judges as evidence of his judicial experience.

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Online:

North Carolina Supreme Court primary voter information: https://bit.ly/1P3AqqD

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