N.C. judicial primaries are crucial but fly under the radar

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  • The headliner primary is a competitive GOP race for state Supreme Court between Trey Allen, Victoria Prince, and April Wood.
  • Two additional GOP primaries for Court of Appeals seats are also drawing attention.

Judicial races decided in the fall will have a significant impact on the future of North Carolina, but as is often the case, these races are mostly flying under the radar of voters. That’s doubly true for a handful of key primaries in judicial races to be decided May 17.

This year, two seats on the seven-member N.C. Supreme Court and four judges on the 15-member Court of Appeals are up for grabs. Democrats currently enjoy a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court, but Republicans could retake the majority if they win either of the two seats in the general election. 

Meanwhile, Republicans hold 10 of the 15 seats on the Court of Appeals and hope to maintain or build on that advantage in the fall.

As primary election day dawns, all eyes are now on the results of three competitive GOP primaries — one for a seat on the state Supreme Court, the other two for Court of Appeals seats.

State Supreme Court

The headliner is a competitive GOP primary for state Supreme Court seat five. Three candidates are vying to represent the party in the fall election — Trey Allen, Victoria Prince, and April Wood.

Allen is a former UNC-Chapel Hill law school professor who currently serves as general counsel for the Administrative Office of the Courts. Allen has won the endorsement of leading Republicans, including Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus.

Prince is an attorney from Greensboro and a graduate of the Elon University School of Law, while Wood is a sitting N.C. Court of Appeals judge and a graduate of the Regent University School of Law.

Recent polling indicates that the vast majority of voters are still undecided in the race. An Atlantic Polling Strategies poll in late April gave an edge to Allen (18%) followed by Wood (10%) and Prince (4%), but 68% of the electorate was undecided. A Civitas poll from earlier in April gave Allen a narrower lead of 10% to Wood’s 7%, with 82% undecided.

There is no primary for the second open seat on the state Supreme Court. Two Court of Appeals judges — Republican Richard Dietz and Democrat Lucy Inman — will face off in the fall after incumbent Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat, decided not to run for another term. The court’s mandatory 72-year-old retirement age would have meant Hudson could have only served 13 months of an eight-year term if she had won reelection.

Court of Appeals

There are two Republican primaries for Court of Appeals seats nine and 11. 

For seat nine, incumbent Judge Donna Stroud has drawn a primary challenge from District Court Judge Beth Freshwater Smith. 

Stroud has served as chief judge of the Court of Appeals since 2021 and before that as an associate judge from 2007 to 2020. Smith has served as a district court judge since 2016. She previously served as a prosecutor and in private practice.

Smith has won the backing of some leading Republicans, including state Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger, Jr., Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, and House Majority leader John Bell, R-Wayne. But other Republicans — such as former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin and former House President Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam — are backing Stroud. Stam called Stroud “a solid conservative who is also lucid, logical, and fair.”

There is also a Republican primary for seat 11, the winner taking on Democratic incumbent Judge Darren Jackson in the fall. Jackson led the Democrats’ minority in the N.C. House from 2017 to 2020 before being appointed by the Court of Appeals by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The two Republican candidates vying to represent their party are private practice attorney Charlton Allen and District Court Judge Michael Strading.

The remaining two open seats on the Court of Appeals do not have primaries. Seat eight is for Inman’s open seat as she seeks election to the state Supreme Court. Republican Julee Tate Flood will face Democrat Carolyn Jennings Thompson in the fall. For seat 10, Republican incumbent Judge John Tyson will face Democrat Gale Murray Adams.