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July 30, 2014

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From left, Anne Fisher of the Rotary Club of Blowing Rock and N.C. Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson at Monday's meeting of the Rotary Club at Chetola Resort. The women have been friends since the early 70s when they were students together at UNC-Chapel Hill. Photo by Jeff Eason

Originally published: 2014-05-14 15:18:29
Last modified: 2014-05-14 15:23:06

Justice speaks about negative advertising

By Jeff Eason

As a general rule, political ads during the primaries are much tamer than the ones voters will see leading up to the general election in November.

During this latest primary season, however, one political attack ad on TV stood out from all of the others.

With the tagline “Judge Robin Hudson: Not Tough on Child Molesters,” the attack ad went after a North Carolina Supreme Court justice seeking re-election.

The ad, accusing Hudson of “siding with the predators,” sparked a lot of conversation and was condemned in editorials in The Raleigh News and Observer, The Washington Post and The New York Times, among other publications.

In an article about the ad in The New York Times (“Outside Spending Enters Arena of Judicial Races,” by Erik Eckholm), it was noted that the attack was funded, not by her two primary election opponents, but by the Republican State Leadership Committee, to the tune of $650,000.

The State Chamber of Commerce also spent $250,000 trying to defeat Hudson, with the money coming from a variety of sources, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Reynolds American and Koch Industries.

Hudson’s campaign survived the onslaught and won the primary race over contendors Eric Levinson and Jeanette Doran.

Hudson spoke with the Rotary Club of Blowing Rock this week about what the Supreme Court of North Carolina does and why this type of outside campaign money is a new and disturbing trend in judicial races.

“You may be surprised to learn that I don’t look like a witch and I’ve never palled around with child molesters,” Hudson said during her presentation at Chetola Resort. “These were false things that were said about me that we now know are not just part of a statewide strategy, but part of a national strategy.

“That’s why it became a national story and there was so much press coverage — because the ads were so over-the-top, outrageous and false. And it is part of a national picture and we just happened to be on the leading edge of that.”

Hudson said that the new effort to influence the outcome of judicial races with large amounts of outside money is “a dangerous affront to the judicial system.”

“This is important. There really are some high stakes here and the biggest one is the independence of our judiciary, our whole system of justice here in North Carolina and throughout the country,” Hudson said.

She said that she was heartened by the widespread support she received after the attack ads began to run on television.

“People from all over the state got in touch with me and said how disgusted they were with those ads,” she said. “The groups funding the ads outspent my campaign 10 to 1, and a total of $1.4 million to attack me.

“Judges in North Carolina are supposed to be elected by our people, not bought by outside sources. In order to keep the judicial system independent, we have to do what we do without fear of attacks.”

According to Hudson, one of the things that sets the judiciary apart from the legislative and gubernatorial branches of government is that it is purposefully designed to be nonpartisan.

“There are seven justices on the Supreme Court,” she said. “There are four women and three men, four are Republicans and three are Democrats. But we rarely split our decisions down party lines. Most of the time we are unanimous in our decisions.”

Hudson said that when the Supreme Court of North Carolina is in session, it typically hears three to five cases a day.

She also said the court reverses fewer than 30 percent of the decisions handed down by the state’s Appellate Court when the cases appear before the Supreme Court.

“Our job is not to make laws, like the Legislature does and like the governor does,” Hudson said, “it is to decide disputes, among parties or people, as they apply to state law.

“The Supreme Court of North Carolina is the last word, the final decider, if you will, of how the law is applied to everybody.”

For more information and stories, see The Blowing Rocket.

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