Sunday, September 16, 2012 11:29 PM
Ervin seeks Supreme Court seat
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
Where some judges see abstract legal principles, Sam J. Ervin IV sees people and their problems.
The N.C. Court of Appeals judge said he wants to bring his pragmatic approach to jurisprudence to the state Supreme Court. He’s challenging Justice Paul M. Newby for a seat on the high court in November’s nonpartisan judicial election.
"My judicial philosophy is pretty simple,” Ervin said. "What you’re doing is dealing with specific cases and specific people. You have to keep in mind that what you’re doing has a very real impact on real people.”
Ervin, the grandson of former U.S. Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr., campaigned in Wilson County during last week’s annual Democratic fundraiser at Silver Lake Oyster Bar. In his four years on the state appellate court, the Morganton native said he’s applied the law fairly.
"I think it’s fair to say I don’t have any pattern of reflecting some kind of ideological or political bent in my opinions,” Ervin said. "I’ve probably made everyone mad at some point because I try to pretty much call them down the middle.”
Since appellate panels review lower courts’ decisions without the benefit of trying the cases, Ervin said understanding the facts in each case is crucial to correctly applying statutes and case law. He said his grandfather had a saying: "Salt down the law. The facts will keep.”
"If you don’t understand the facts, you can’t possibly apply the law to it,” he said.
Ervin estimates that he’s decided nearly 1,000 cases and written more than 325 opinions for the Court of Appeals.
"I think I’ve got a reputation for writing thorough and complete opinions that don’t leave people guessing what the rationale was,” he said. "I try really hard to explain why we reached the decision we reached.”
Ervin said he doesn’t legislate from the bench and seeks to apply the law even if he disagrees with it.
"I try to remember that the policymaking job is done by the legislature,” he said. "My job is to apply them fairly.”
The North Carolina Judicial Commission super-PAC is raising money from conservatives to re-elect Newby, according to media reports. The U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision in 2010 cleared the way for independent political groups to spend unlimited cash in candidates’ support.
"We now are, in fact, seeing out-of-state money from ideologically based groups,” Ervin said. "Do we want these types of groups affecting decisions? I think that’s an important question in this race.”
Ervin graduated from Davidson College and completed his legal studies at Harvard Law School. He worked as a private-practice attorney until 1999, when then-Gov. Jim Hunt nominated him for a North Carolina Utilities Commission seat. The utilities commission is a quasi-judicial body that regulates electric, telecommunications, water, sewer and natural gas services.
Ervin won his Court of Appeals seat in 2008, and his term is set to expire in 2017. He said his experience on the utilities commission and appellate court make him an ideal candidate for the state’s high court.
"Everybody’s equal under the law,” he said. "It’s really important that the courts treat everyone equally and apply the law equally to all, because if you don’t do that, you’re really in a position where you don’t have a law.”
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