I mentioned yesterday that N.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin has secured the endorsements of all five living former chief justices in his campaign for that seat.
This probably would not happen if, today, we had partisan judicial elections.
But we probably will have partisan judicial elections next year. The Republican legislature is pushing for that.
By doing so, there's a chance it will sabotage Martin's campaign ... which is an irony, because he would run as a Republican.
First the endorsements. Former chiefs Jim Exum, Henry Frye and Burley Mitchell are Democrats. Rhoda Billings and I. Beverly Lake Jr. are Republicans.
People are also reading…
They can all endorse Martin in a nonpartisan system because, although he is a registered Republican, that really doesn't matter. Our judiciary is nonpartisan, and very few of our judges at any level of the system make decisions with any detectable partisan bias.
Martin doesn't. He's part of our court's centrist majority, along with Chief Justice Sarah Parker (a registered Democrat) and Justices Bob Edmunds and Barbara Jackson (registered Republicans). And, usually, the other three justices are on board as well.
In a nonpartisan system, Martin could escape a serious election challenge in 2014 as he did the last time he ran. His only opponent in 2006 was the infamous "Madam Justice," Rachel Lea Hunter.
However, if next year's election is partisan, and Martin runs as a Republican, the Democrats won't be able to give him a pass. They'll have to mount a serious challenge. And they certainly would try to make it difficult for any Democratic judges to support Martin. So I doubt Martin would have the endorsements of Exum, Frye and Mitchell at that point -- which is why he needed to secure them so early, before the system changes.
So, with the return to a partisan judicial election system next year, Martin no longer will be able to count on the bipartisan support he enjoyed in 2006.
Not only that, but I believe he may be hurt by the electoral backlash North Carolina voters will deliver next year in response to the right-wing agenda advanced by this legislature.
Republican legislators themselves may be largely protected by their gerrymandered districts, although some in relatively balanced areas may lose their seats.
But Martin will make an easier target. With Republicans controlling the legislature and the governor's office, Democrats may mount their strongest efforts in 2014 in two areas: Keeping Kay Hagan in her U.S. Senate seat, and making gains in the courts.
It's easy to see the pitch to voters: With radical Republicans making our laws, do we want Republican judges rubberstamping them? It's a good line: Let's elect more Democrats to the courts to at least provide a check against total Republican power.
Turning next year's election for chief justice into a highly partisan race could be a winner for Democrats -- although it's only possible if Republicans do away with our nonpartisan judiciary first.