One of the primary races set for Tuesday will determine which two of four candidates will square off in November for Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Political handicappers see the two most likely candidates to advance as incumbent Justice Robert H. Edmunds Jr. and Wake County District 10-B Superior Court Judge Michael R. “Mike” Morgan.
The Voice’s Sam Walker interviewed both candidates last week. Here are are highlights of the Morgan interview followed by audio of the full discussion.
Superior Court Judge Michael “Mike” Morgan
Sam Walker: This has got to be one of the strangest campaign years you have dealt with both as a District Court and Superior Court judge.
Morgan: It has been a quite different situation. A number of factors made it that way. First the legality that was involved with the retention election being declared unconstitutional, then the appeals process going through the Supreme Court and not knowing what that outcome was going to be, the compressed the time schedule leading up to the election. So it has been indeed a challenge to campaign and get the voters’ attention, but thankfully as the time grows closer to the June 7 election it does seem the voters are now becoming engaged.
SW: What motivated you to run for Supreme Court?
Morgan: I’ve had the opportunity to serve the great people of North Carolina on the bench for over 26 years now, 11 years as a Superior Court judge, 10 years as a District Court judge and five years as a state administrative law judge. I have more judicial experience than my other three opponents combined.
I felt as though I’ve been progressing my way gradually through the ranks to the high court, and this was indeed a time to offer myself considering that wealth of experience I have. Also I’ve been teaching judges from across the country how to be better judges at the National Judicial College, where I’ve been serving as a faculty member for 24 years.
With my experience and commitment through civic, church groups, professional groups I felt as though that wealth of experience made me well qualified to look to the high court.
SW: The high court has reflected changes North Carolina has seen both demographically and also from a political mindset over the last three or four decades. Tell me how much that weighed into your decision to try to become a member of the high court?
Morgan: For example, the diversity you mentioned, certainly North Carolina benefits from its great diversity we are stronger because of that diversity and we have therefore been number one on a number of lists in terms of great places to live because indeed a diverse community is a stronger community and the judiciary should certainly reflect that from the the standpoint of there not being an African-American male on the high court.
Certainly I feel as though that is a voice that has been sorely lacking, especially considering the fact that the African-American male has indeed been a focal point of the justice system.
Certainly the rendition of justice is important, but so is the appearance of the rendition of justice, and as a result I feel as though as an African-American male, certainly I play a huge part in restoring the confidence that people have in our justice system by being on the state’s highest court and therefore can set a tone, that indeed even at the highest level, the judiciary reflects the strength of diversity we are blessed to have in North Carolina.
SW: You served as Assistant Attorney General under two rather well-known (attorney generals) Rufus Edmundson and Lacy Thornburg. How much did that influence you working for those two gentlemen?
Morgan: I have a great deal of respect for both of them. They gave me, early in my career, opportunities to have a wealth of experience in terms of knowing civil law, criminal law, as well as their dedication of public service to the people trying to make their respective administrations in the North Carolina Department of Justice Attorney General’s office one that was open to the community in such a way people knew and understood what those offices represented.
That is not lost on me, the training I received from each of these fine attorneys, because in fact that helped me to understand that as a judge, I should make sure my office as a judge is one that is open in the sense that I try to educate and communicate so the folks don’t feel quite so overwhelmed and quite so intimidated by the legal system.
SW: How important is this election over the next 10 years?
Morgan: It’s extremely important that people understand that these very serious matters that we see in the news, whether they are political, environmental, have social implications for lifestyles, they eventually have a good opportunity to get up to the Supreme Court.
Indeed, there is a lot of politicization of what is going on in terms of our governmental systems — legislative, executive and, unfortunately, judicial.
The judiciary is supposed to be fair and impartial, but yet we have had, particularly in this seat I am seeking, a great deal of political telegraphing of what this seat currently represents.
One should not espouse a political proclivity at all, one should simply state that one is going to be fair or impartial. To say what one’s political bent or persuasion is certainly not appropriate for any judgeship and certainly not a Supreme Court justice.
If elected I will make sure I have done what I have always done — be fair, impartial, not have any preconceived notion as to how decide a matter that comes before and therefore restore the confidence that in this seat the individual who holds this seat is fair and impartial and not espousing any political leanings at all.
SW: Party affiliation — How do you try to convey to the voter what it means by being unaffiliated or non-partisan.
Morgan: I try to make sure people understand our judicial races are non-partisan. It’s easy for folks, however, to get beyond the non-partisan aspect and want to attempt to identify a judicial candidate with a political philosophy, perhaps through the political party, perhaps through the decisions that have been made by that individual — be they one who sits on the bench alone, as I do, or as a Supreme Court justice does in a panel of judges.
Ostensibly while folks do try to look at these races as being partisan and some outsiders attempt to try to make it partisan and sometimes those that espouse a political persuasion try to make it partisan.
I try to represent what is the goodness that is contemplated in these types of races and that is to simply promise that I will try to be impartial and hear the cases that come before me and apply the law to the facts as it is appropriate to do and not advertise myself as a candidate who needs to be elected in order to be able to maintain or espouse some political motivation.
SW: Why should voters pick you on Tuesday?
Morgan Because I am the best qualified for the position based upon the experience I have, the breadth and depth of that experience in terms of longevity the quality, the quantity, the fact that I have had myself stood before the people for election and re-election.
I have been evaluated by my peer group, lawyers and judges, and have scored high.
I am a member of the community in every way, civic, church, professional, so I understand these are cases that aren’t cases that have numbers attached to them only, but they are about people.
Professionally and personally I’m best qualified because I have worked my way through the ranks.
I understand society’s needs, and I expect to fulfill them as a Supreme Court justice.