Justice Morgan will not seek re-election, opening NC Supreme Court race in ’24

N.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan

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  • N.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan will not seek a second eight-year term next year.
  • Morgan's announcement Thursday means that the lone 2024 N.C. Supreme Court election will be an open race.
  • N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Jefferson Griffin, a Republican, already has announced plans to run for the seat.

N.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan announced Thursday he will not seek re-election next year to a second eight-year term. That means North Carolina’s lone 2024 state Supreme Court election will be an open race.

Morgan is a Democrat. Republicans now hold a 5-2 majority on the court. They could extend that majority to 6-1 with a 2024 electoral win. A win for a Democratic candidate would preserve the current 5-2 split.

“With the incredibly good fortune to be the only person ever in NC to serve in 4 different judgeships over my 34 years of judicial service, I shall not seek to be reelected in 2024 as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina,” Morgan tweeted shortly after 9 a.m.

N.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan announces that he will not seek re-election in 2024.

Appeals Court Judge Jefferson Griffin, a Republican, announced in November 2022 that he plans to run in next year’s state Supreme Court election.

Judge Jefferson Griffin in robe
N.C. Appeals Court Judge Jefferson Griffin (Image from jeffersongriffin.com)

Morgan will turn 68 in October. Under current mandatory retirement rules, he would be forced to retire from the court no later than October 2027. Had he sought re-election, he would have been able to serve less than three full years of an eight-year term.

Provisions in both the state House and Senate budget plans could have allowed Morgan to serve four more years. Both budgets would raise the judicial mandatory retirement age from 72 to 76 in the state’s appellate courts.

If that change becomes law, Morgan could have served almost seven years of a new eight-year term had he sought re-election.

Morgan was the last current member of the N.C. Supreme Court elected with no party labels on the ballot. He unseated incumbent Justice Robert Edmunds in 2016 with 54% of the vote. Edmunds was a Republican.

It was the only statewide appellate race on the ballot that year with no party label. Republicans swept five N.C. Court of Appeals elections on the same ballot. With no party label, Morgan’s name appeared on the first line of the ballot in his race. That was the same spot Republican candidates occupied in the Appeals Court races.

While Morgan will not take advantage of the potential change in mandatory retirement age for appellate court judges and justices, the change is likely to affect the state Supreme Court’s top post.

Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, is five months older than Morgan. Under current law, Newby would be forced to retire by the end of May 2027. He would step down with 19 months left in his term. The next governor would appoint a replacement.

With the proposed changes in the budget plans, Newby could serve his full term. He could run for a second term as chief, though he would be forced to retire in May 2031. That’s just 2 ½ years into an eight-year term.

Morgan was born in Cherry Point and grew up in New Bern. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a law degree from N.C. Central University. He worked for the N.C. Department of Justice for 10 years before an appointment in 1989 as an administrative law judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt appointed Morgan to Wake County District Court in 1994. Voters returned him to that job in 1996 and 2000. He won elections to N.C. Superior Court in 2004 and 2012.