Scott Mooneyham: Primary voters to whittle field in Supreme Court race

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RALEIGH — When voters go to the polls for the May 6 primary, the U.S. Senate race will not be the only statewide contest on the ballot.

But they might have a little more trouble recognizing the names in the other race.

That’s how judicial races go, even those involving the state’s highest court.

In all, four seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court will be decided in 2014.

In these nonpartisan races, a primary is required only where more than two candidates file for the seat. Then, the top two vote-getters face each other in the fall general election.

This year, that occurred for only one of those seats.

Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson, who was elected to the court in 2006, is seeking a second term and saw two challengers — Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson and Raleigh lawyer Jeanette Doran — file against her.

Although the candidates for the seven-member court appear on the ballot without party affiliation, political party can still play a pivotal role in the races. That was the case in 2012, when conservative groups piled in to support incumbent Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, and left-leaning groups did the same for his challenger, Democrat Sam Ervin IV.

That same scenario may not play out in 2014, particularly because Mark Martin, the justice who is seeking to replace retiring Chief Justice Sarah Parker, is a Republican but is expected to enjoy some bipartisan support. Turning the other races into partisan affairs might hurt Martin’s cross-party support.

Nonetheless, the party affiliation of those seeking the Hudson seat won’t be lost on some voters.

Hudson is a Democrat. Levinson and Doran are Republicans.

Now a veteran of the state’s appellate courts, Hudson served six years on the state Court of Appeals before winning a seat on the Supreme Court. Prior to 2001, she was a lawyer in private practice in Raleigh.

Hudson is touting her ability to be a fair judge who is practical and avoids political bias.

Levinson also is no newcomer to the bench. In 2002, he won a term on the state Court of Appeals after previously serving as a District Court judge. He gave up his Court of Appeals seat in 2007 for an appointment by President Bush as justice attaché for the American embassy in Iraq.

In 2009, he was appointed to the state Superior Court.

Levinson calls himself a “Constitutional Conservative” who believes in deliberative courts and that judges should understand their important but limited sphere of influence.

Doran currently is chair of the state Board of Review, a newly established entity that hears appeals for unemployment benefits cases.

She is best known as executive director and general counsel for the conservative N.C. Institute of Constitutional Law. That organization led several highly-publicized court cases challenging as unconstitutional decisions by the state legislature, including economic incentives given for plant locations.

Doran says that policy changes should “come from the people and not activist judges.”