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Late candidacy could help Democrats win Supreme Court race

RALEIGH (AP) A last-minute candidacy has the potential to dilute Republican votes this fall for a North Carolina Supreme Court seat and boost chances for the Democrats to expand their majority on the court.

Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin filed on the last available day last week as a registered Republican to run for the seat held by another Republican, Associate Justice Barbara Jackson, who is seeking re-election. Civil rights lawyer Anita Earls is running as a Democrat.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports Anglin actually was a registered Democrat until he changed his voter affiliation in early June, a couple weeks before the judicial candidate filing period began.

Paul Shumaker, a GOP consultant, said Anglin could split the GOP vote in the three-way race. Democrats currently hold a 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court, so an Earls victory would expand the party’s margin to 5-2.

“At the end of the day, in the absence of real information, the impact is that will dilute the vote among Republicans,” Shumaker said.

Anglin said he’s not a Democratic “plant” who is running just to help Earls win. Rather, he said he’s running as a “constitutional Republican” unhappy with “the constant assault on the independent judiciary at the state and federal level.”

Anglin said he filed to “stand up for the independence of the judiciary,” he said. “This is not a trick by the Democrats. … I didn’t think I could sit on the sidelines anymore and not take action.”

The GOP-controlled General Assembly decided to cancel this year’s judicial primaries, so there was no limit on the number of members of the same party that could run in November for the same seat. The person with the most votes wins. The candidates’ political affiliations will be listed next to their names.

Republicans have passed laws affecting the judiciary since late 2016 that critics say are designed to give the GOP more control over the courts. Before this year’s work session ended June 29, the General Assembly agreed to submit to voters in November a proposed constitutional amendment that would give legislators more say over who can fill judicial vacancies. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper currently fills them without required legislative input.

Jackson has the endorsement of the state Republican Party. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse says Anglin “will be treated like the enemy he is.”

The three-candidate race is interesting, given that it was Democrats who complained the lack of primaries would open the door to shenanigans by Republicans to dilute the votes of Democrats.

A group linked to Republican consultants sent mailers last month “recruiting Democratic lawyers to run for judge.” The state Democratic Party and several county Democratic parties also sued unsuccessfully to restore the judicial primaries, saying without them voters would be hard-pressed to know the Democrats’ favored candidate in the fall.

Earls, who is endorsed by the state Democratic Party, is the former executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and helped file lawsuits over Republican redistricting and the state’s voter identification law.

Jackson, who is seeking a second eight-year term on the Supreme Court, previously served on the Court of Appeals and as a state government lawyer. Hearing about Anglin’s previously Democratic registration this week, Jackson said “really I’m the only Republican on the ballot.”

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