Cooper appoints activist redistricting lawyer Riggs to N.C. Appeals Court

Attorney Allison Riggs questions a witness in a trial addressing N.C. election maps. (Image from pool video)

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  • Gov. Roy Cooper is appointing left-of-center activist lawyer Allison Riggs to fill a vacancy on the N.C. Court of Appeals.
  • Riggs, a Democrat, will replace Republican Judge RIchard Dietz. Republicans will still make a net gain of one seat on the state Appeals Court in 2023 after winning all four statewide elections.

Gov. Roy Cooper is appointing Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to fill a vacancy on the N.C. Court of Appeals. Riggs will replace Judge Richard Dietz, who is leaving the Appeals Court in January to take a seat on the state Supreme Court.

Cooper and Riggs are Democrats. Dietz is a Republican.

“Allison Riggs is a brilliant attorney and an experienced litigator who has spent her career fighting for fairness and defending people’s constitutional rights,” Cooper said in a news release. “I am confident that she will continue to serve our state with distinction and be a great asset to the bench.”

Riggs is co-executive director and chief counsel for voting rights at SCSJ. That group’s founder, Anita Earls, serves as an associate justice on the state Supreme Court. A motion filed in the state Supreme Court in January described Riggs as Earls’ “long-time colleague, co-author, and friend.”

Riggs has spent much of her career fighting election laws approved by the Republican-led General Assembly. She has represented left-of-center activist group Common Cause in its ongoing legal challenge against state legislative and congressional election maps. Riggs has represented plaintiffs challenging North Carolina’s voter identification laws.

Cooper’s appointment of Riggs bucks the trend of Republican gains on state appellate courts. In 2020, Republicans won all eight statewide judicial elections. In 2022, GOP candidates won all six statewide races, including four Appeals Court contests. No race was closer than a 52%-to-48% Republican victory.

“The governor’s latest appointment shows he’s not paying much attention to voter sentiment,” said John Locke Foundation CEO Amy Cooke. “For the last two election cycles, N.C. voters have expressed clear preferences for conservative judges and justices. Instead of acknowledging the public’s will, the governor is placing a Democrat on the bench. And not just any Democrat, but a highly partisan left-wing activist. Voters will have to wait two years to express their opinion about Allison Riggs serving on the state’s second-highest court.”

Even with Democrat Riggs replacing Republican Dietz, Republicans will make a net gain of one seat on the 15-member Appeals Court. As of January, the court will have 11 Republican judges and four Democrats.

The Appeals Court hears cases in three-judge panels.