· Judge Set to Rule on Voter ID While He Campaigns for NC Supreme Court at the Same Time
· High-Profile Case Likely to Raise his Name Recognition Leading up to Election Day
· Case Has Significant Conflict of Interest Elements
Mike Morgan is running for the one opening on the state Supreme Court this year. At the same time, he is also the judge who will decide whether Voter ID legislation enacted in 2013 is constitutional according to state law. Morgan, a Democrat, seems to have positioned himself to benefit from an onslaught of media attention just about the time the public gets interested in the November election.
He has conveniently (for him) scheduled the state voter ID trial to start on Sept. 26 – just six weeks ahead of Election Day and more than three years after the case was first filed.
When former Chief Justice Sarah Parker assigned Morgan to the state voter ID case, he didn’t have an election scheduled for November 2016. At the time of his assignment, he was a Superior Court judge who had been re-elected to an eight-year term in 2012. It is troubling that, when Morgan filed to run for North Carolina Supreme Court in March of this year, he did not recuse himself from the Voter ID case.
His decision to remain the judge overseeing the voter ID case while running for Supreme Court shows a serious lack of judgement. Add to that the fact that he just scheduled the trial to begin on Sept. 26, only six weeks before Election Day, makes one believe he is also arrogant. These are two very bad qualities for any judge – not to mention a justice on the state’s highest court.
Voter ID has been one of the biggest news stories in the last three years in North Carolina. Does anyone really think an elected local judge who had been considering a run for statewide office has no interest in what laws will govern his election? Running for an office that will be impacted by a decision in the Voter ID case should be enough for any judge to recuse himself from the case.
In a previous article, we pointed out that mainstream media appears to have covered up the fact that Mike Morgan, the Voter ID judge, is the same Mike Morgan who is a candidate for election to the North Carolina Supreme Court – an election that will be affected by the Voter ID rules. Perhaps Morgan was hoping that no one would notice until it was too late and by that time his campaign would have benefitted from all the free advertising through news stories about …. Voter ID.
Though it’s probably too late to change a judicial assignment made years ago, former Chief Justice Parker’s appointment of Morgan should be instructive to other Supreme Court chief justices when they make future assignments. While Parker could not foresee Judge Morgan running for Supreme Court in 2016, she could have taken better care not to assign a decidedly political activist judge to a case that had already become politically divisive on its own merits.
Some might contend that Morgan had serious conflicts in the case, conflicts quite visible in his resume for everyone to see. Morgan, according to his campaign website, is a life member of the NAACP. The North Carolina NAACP is one of the lead plaintiffs in the corresponding federal lawsuit brought against North Carolina’s voter ID law. The high-profile federal case was filed immediately after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the 2013 legislation and is still in play today. The NAACP has been in the forefront of the political fight against any and all election reforms in North Carolina.
Unfortunately, and curiously, Chief Justice Parker apparently did not consider Morgan’s association with the NAACP a problem. If she had, maybe we would not have to contend with Morgan’s decision to stay on the case even after he filed to run for the only open seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court this year.
Lack of judgement, arrogance and political activism are not the qualities most people are looking for in a Judge. Mike Morgan could learn from his opponent in this year’s Supreme Court race. Earlier this year, Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds recused himself from hearing the case about how sitting justices are re-elected. With Edmunds’ recusal, the Court’s decision in the case resulted in a 3-3 tie, and the result led to the race between Edmunds and Morgan. It appears one of these candidates took the high road, and it wasn’t Morgan.
August 13, 2013: Case is filed in Superior Court, Orange County, by Alberta Currie, Paris Vaughn, Cassandra Perkins and two left-leaning groups — the League of Women Voters and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute.
January 30, 2015: Judge Mike Morgan hears arguments on merits of state voter ID lawsuit.
February 27, 2015: Morgan dismisses two of six claims made by the plaintiffs but, refuses to dismiss the state voter ID case.
August 24, 2015: Attorneys representing the state ask Morgan to dismiss the voter ID case given that the state legislature had relaxed the law allowing people to use excuses called “reasonable impediments” in lieu of providing official identification.
September 24, 2015: Morgan allows state lawsuit against voter ID to proceed, rejecting the arguments of the state’s lawyers. Morgan delayed proceedings until after the March 2016 primary in order to allow plaintiffs to gather evidence that voters are disenfranchised as a result of being asked for proof of identification.
May 20, 2016: Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) tells Morgan she now has evidence from the March primary to set a trial date for Aug. 8. The SCSJ is representing challengers to North Carolina’s voter ID law. Lawyers for the state ask Morgan to either delay the case or refer it to a three-judge panel. Morgan did not rule at this time, but assured both sides that he knew time was of the essence in making a decision.
July 11, 2016: Morgan rejects the request to either assign the case to a three-judge panel or dismiss it altogether. He sets trial start date as September 26, six weeks ahead of November 2016 Election Day and less than five weeks ahead of the onset of in-person early voting.
September 26, 2016: Trial scheduled to begin for lawsuit brought against the state.
October 27, 2016: One-stop early voting begins.
November 8, 2016: Election Day