Morgan to step down from NC Supreme Court in September

N.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan

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  • Associate Justice Michael Morgan will resign from the North Carolina Supreme Court during the week of Sept. 4.
  • The resignation will allow Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to appoint a successor for Morgan, also a Democrat. The appointed justice will have to run for a full eight-year term in 2024.
  • Morgan announced in May that he would not seek re-election to the state's highest court. Reports suggest he is considering running for governor.

Senior Associate Justice Michael Morgan will resign from the North Carolina Supreme Court in early September, shortly after the court’s next official opinion day.

“I am stepping down from the NC Supreme Court and departing during the week of September 4,” Morgan tweeted Thursday morning. “With the help of my outstanding staff, all of my opinions & assignments have been completed as the Court acts on them and concludes its current cycle in the coming days.”

The state’s highest court is scheduled to release its next batch of opinions in outstanding cases on Sept. 1. After a break of more than four months, the court will resume oral arguments on Sept. 12.

Morgan’s single eight-year term on the high court runs through the end of 2024. He had announced in May that he did not plan to run for re-election.

Carolina Journal has reported on the prospect that Morgan, a Democrat, could run for governor. State Attorney General Josh Stein is the only prominent Democrat who has announced a gubernatorial run to date. Five Republicans have announced plans to seek the states highest executive office.

The resignation will give Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, a chance to appoint Morgan’s replacement. That justice will have roughly a year to serve on the court before facing the voters in 2024.

Republicans hold a 5-2 majority on the court. Depending on the outcome of the 2024 election, that majority will stay put at 5-2 or move to 6-1 in the GOP’s favor.

“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 on May 18.

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

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 NC 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 state 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.

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 North Carolina Central University. He worked for the state 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 NC Superior Court in 2004 and 2012.

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.