CHARLOTTE (AP) — North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson survived a primary in which outside conservative groups spent nearly $1 million trying to defeat her.
With 85 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday, Hudson was leading with 43 percent. She will be joined in the November race by Mecklenburg County Superior Court judge Eric Levinson, who received 36 percent. Conservative lawyer Jeanette Doran finished third with 21 percent.
The conservative group Justice For All NC spent about $700,000 on an ad against Hudson that said she was not tough on child molesters. The harsh tone of the ad rallied many in the legal community behind Hudson, who has been a justice for eight years.
After taking over the governor’s office and the Legislature in 2012, conservatives are aiming at the North Carolina Supreme Court. The justices run in nonpartisan elections, but Republicans have a 5-4 advantage by voter registrations, with three of the four seats up for re-election this year belonging to Democrats.
Hudson’s seat was the only one to end up with a primary. More than $1 million was poured into the race in the final weeks, much of it from a mysterious outside group trying to beat the incumbent.
Justice For All NC’s ad picked one of the thousands of opinions Hudson has written or signed during her 14 years as an appellate judge and used it to say she was not tough on child molesters and not fair to victims.
Hudson said she was sickened by the ad, saying it distorted her dissent in a case upholding satellite monitoring for sex offenders who had already completed all requirements of their sentence. The legal community rallied too, including six former Supreme Court members who said the ad was disgusting and had no place in this race.
Hudson had to rely on own fundraising to fight the ad. She raised about $250,000.
“I’m glad North Carolina voters made a stand that our courts are not for sale,” Hudson said Tuesday. “But they are going to have to do it again this fall.”
A couple of factors open the gate for big spending in this judicial race. After taking over the Legislature, Republicans ended a public financing system for statewide judicial races and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows unlimited spending by outside groups like Justice For All NC, whose registration papers list a mailbox at a local package store as its headquarters.
Big money judicial races first became a trend in 2010. A report by the Brennan Center for Justice found about $30 million was spent nationwide on TV advertising in state court races.
Two years ago, Justice For All NC also spent big money in the Supreme Court election. Campaign finance records show the group raised $1.7 million and sent it to another super PAC that spent it on ads supporting justice Paul Newby’s re-election campaign.
Legal observers expect that kind of spending in all four races in the fall.
Hudson can expect another tough race in the fall against Levinson. Doran issued a statement pointing out over half the voters Tuesday picked a conservative instead of the incumbent.
“I offer him my full and unqualified endorsement, and will be working hard for him this fall to help him secure a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court,” Doran said.