News: The Woodshed

Democrats’ N.C. Supreme Court majority on the line with two seats up in ’22

Democrat Appeals Court Judge Lucy Inman advances state supreme court bid, with no open seat yet. GOP primary likely

The courtroom of the N.C. Supreme Court Wiki Commons photo
The courtroom of the N.C. Supreme Court Wiki Commons photo

N.C. Appeals Court Judge Lucy Inman is aggressively campaigning for a seat on the state Supreme Court. Inman announced her intentions shortly after being defeated by fellow Court of Appeals Judge Phil Berger Jr. in 2020 for an open seat on the state’s highest court. Berger defeated Inman 51% to 49%, a margin of 71,517 votes.

N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman (Photo courtesy of N.C. Court of Appeals)

After losing such a close race, it is not surprising that the Democrat Inman would throw her hat in the ring again. It’s somewhat unusual because the two seats up for election in 2022 are currently held by Democrats.

Democratic Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV must defend his seat in 2022, and he has already announced plans to run again.

Democratic Associate Justice Robin Hudson faces mandatory retirement in early 2024 because of her age.  If she runs for re-election next year, she could serve only a little more than one year of an eight-year term. Those facts make it unlikely Hudson would file for re-election, but she has not made a public statement that she will in fact retire in 2022.

Inman is not waiting.

Inman held a high-dollar fundraiser on June 30 with retired Chief Justice Jim Exum, hosted by Duke law professor and attorney Hans Linnartz, whose specialty is fighting the deportation of illegal immigrants and other immigration cases. Also hosting the Inman fundraiser was his wife, Ann Robertson, who is an immigration attorney as well.

The top donation level for the event was $5,600, with the cheap seats going for $100. Sponsors included Capital Broadcasting magnates Jim and Barbara Goodmon, SAS founder Jim Goodnight, Former Raleigh Mayors Nancy McFarlane and Smedes York, plus former News and Observer publishers Frank Daniels and Orage Quarles.

Inman served as a special Superior Court judge from 2010-2014. She was elected to an eight-year term on the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2014. Running for Supreme Court in 2022 would leave her current Appeals Court seat open to be filled by election.

Inman received her undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University in 1984. She received her J.D. degree in 1990 from the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she served as articles editor for the North Carolina Law Review.

As noted by the North State Journal in 2020, Inman, a registered Democrat, is the daughter of author Lucy Daniels, granddaughter of former White House Press Secretary Jonathan Daniels, and great-granddaughter of Josephus Daniels.

Josephus Daniels, who died in 1948, was long celebrated in the Capital City, having served as publisher of the Raleigh News and Observer. Daniels, also a Democrat, was appointed by  President Woodrow Wilson to serve as Secretary of the Navy during World War I. He became a close friend and supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served as his assistant secretary of the Navy and later was the only man elected four times as U.S. president. Roosevelt appointed Daniels as his ambassador to Mexico from 1933–1941. Daniels was a vehement white supremacist and segregationist and, along with fellow Democrats Charles Aycock and Furnifold Simmons, was a leading perpetrator of the 1898 Wilmington insurrection.

In the wake of the death of George Floyd and after extensive reporting and apologies from the News and Observer for its role in the 1898 race riots and white supremacist past, Daniels’ name was removed from a Wake County middle school on Oberlin Road. A statue of Josephus Daniels was removed from its location in downtown Raleigh.

Judge Richard Dietz, N.C. Court of Appeals

Should Hudson retire, with Inman running for her seat, the likely Republican opponent would be fellow Court of Appeals member Richard Dietz, who announced his intention to run for Supreme Court earlier this year. Dietz joined the Court of Appeals in 2014. Dietz is known as a conservative intellectual with a record of conservative jurisprudence, but with a unique ability to develop consensus on the court.  Dietz is reportedly inclined to run for the Hudson seat but has not yet made that announcement public.

Both major political parties have their eyes on the Supreme Court in 2022, where control of the court is up for grabs. The N.C. Republican Party has expanded its operation to include dedicated grassroots and fundraising support for its judicial candidates. Berger, with judicial experience on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals and service as a locally elected district attorney, is mentoring GOP judicial candidates on potential future service on the state’s two highest courts.

Democrats are aware that maintaining control of the state Supreme Court is the most likely way to force changes to new election maps resulting from redistricting coming later this year.

For the right to meet Ervin, Republicans will likely have a primary contest.

This spring, newly seated Republican state Appeals Court Judge April Wood, announced she would seek to move up to the state Supreme Court in 2022.  Wood defeated Democrat Tricia Shields 52% to 48%, a margin of 190,456 votes, in her 2020 race for the Court of Appeals.

“I am running for one of the two seats on the N.C. Supreme Court in 2022,” Wood announced. “I am asking for your support in this endeavor, as I am the strongest and most experienced conservative candidate for the Supreme Court. I am a proven Constitutional Conservative and am the only candidate with trial court judicial experience. With my almost 20 years on the bench in the trial courts and the Court of Appeals, I am the most experienced and qualified candidate. We need strong, hard-working candidates in order to win the conservative majority on the Supreme Court next year.”

“My focus is 2022, and I will run for the seat that gives us the best opportunity to win the majority,” Wood told Carolina Journal.

The third Republican running for state Supreme Court is Trey Allen, a UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government professor and general counsel at the Administrative Office of the Courts. He is a former clerk for then-Associate Justice Paul Newby, who won a 2020 election to become the current chief justice.

Allen’s campaign website highlights his close relationship with Newby. He was born in Robeson County, obtained a bachelor’s degree from UNC-Pembroke, and earned a law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Allen began his legal career as a judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps. He spent most of his time in the Marines overseas, and his military service included a deployment to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After being honorably discharged, Allen completed a clerkship with Newby. In 2013 he joined the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill, where his research, writing, and teaching focused on local government law.

Following Newby’s installation as chief justice in January 2021, Allen was appointed general counsel for the Administrative Office of the Courts. That agency oversees state court operations across North Carolina.

Dietz and Allen reportedly have a close relationship and would not face each other in a primary, leaving Allen to run for the Ervin seat. Wood could choose to compete for either seat, but political observers believe her most logical step would be to file for the seat held by Ervin. If she wins a primary over Allen, she would have some political advantages as an experienced female judicial candidate when compared to Ervin.

The state Supreme Court has played a pivotal role in setting N.C. public policy in recent years, particularly with the executive and legislative branches controlled by opposing political parties. However, no issue for the state Supreme Court is more critical than ruling on legislative and congressional redistricting lawsuits. The two Supreme Court seats up in 2022 will determine the partisan makeup of the court that could decide whether new district lines will stand for the next decade or not.