By Will Doran

A judge threw out a new state law Monday, ruling that it violated the constitutional rights of at least two politicians whose 2018 campaigns the law had targeted.

Chris Anglin, a Republican candidate for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, had sued the legislature along with Rebecca Edwards, a Democrat who is running to become a district court judge in Wake County. Earlier this summer, the legislature passed a new law that would have prevented Anglin or Edwards from being able to have their party affiliations on the ballot.

They argued that the law unfairly targeted them because their competitors in this November's elections would still have their own parties listed on the ballot.

Anglin, who is believed to have been the main target of the new law, is one of two Republicans running for the Supreme Court seat against a single Democratic candidate.

"Their actions have shown exactly why I'm running," Anglin said Monday after winning the case. "They want to make the judiciary an extension of the legislature."

The GOP had previously endorsed the other Republican, incumbent Barbara Jackson. Anglin had been a registered Democrat until shortly before he entered the race, and his campaign consultant is Democratic operative Perry Woods -- leading Republicans who control the General Assembly to cry foul about Anglin's intentions.

Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore can appeal the ruling, but neither committed to an appeal right away.

"Republican or Democrat, 'candidates' shouldn't be able to switch parties at the last minute to split the vote," said a spokesman for Berger, Bill D'Elia. "It's a dirty trick that both sides of the aisle have rightfully condemned. We're reviewing our legal options as we consider next steps."

Jackson is running what's likely to be a close campaign against the Democratic challenger, Anita Earls, who has so far raised twice as much money as Jackson and is counting on the so-called "blue wave" of Democratic voters expected to turn out this fall to boost her and other liberal politicians.

Anglin's attorney, the Raleigh lawyer and Democratic politician John Burns, argued in court that Anglin's partisan leanings had nothing to do with whether or not his rights were violated.

"That's up to the voters," he said.

The case came down to whether the legislature violated Anglin's and Edwards' rights when it passed the new law, after filing for judicial races had already ended, that stripped the party affiliations of any candidates who changed their party registration within 90 days of the filing deadline. Since it applied retroactively and with no opportunity for the candidates to comply with its new requirements, Wake County Superior Court Judge Becky Holt overturned the law as it applied to Anglin and Edwards.

In a press conference after the trial Monday, Burns said this case was important in a broader sense because it will "keep the government from reaching back in time and doing something you can't react to."

But Moore's office criticized the judge's decision Monday, saying that the legislature does indeed have the power to act as it did.

"Today's misguided ruling protects Democrats' deliberate effort to split the vote by confusing voters about a candidate's true affiliation, despite the state legislature's longstanding authority to set party label rules for candidates and efforts to conform judicial races with every other public office statewide," a spokesman for Moore, Joseph Kyzer, said. "Lawmakers are reviewing their legal options."

(c)2018 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)