N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin is resigning his post next month. He’ll become dean of the law school at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
The Associated Press first reported Martin’s plan to leave the state Supreme Court’s top job, which he has held since 2014.
“It has been the highest of honors to serve the people of North Carolina as their Chief Justice,” Martin said in a written statement. “I will forever cherish the memories of serving with so many amazing and capable people. It is now time to direct my focus to helping prepare the next generation of leaders.”
Martin’s departure is likely to shift the high court’s partisan balance to 6-1 in favor of Democrats. That’s because Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will appoint Martin’s replacement. If Cooper follows tradition and elevates a sitting justice as chief, he would appoint that justice’s replacement.
Martin, 55, is a registered Republican. Cooper is not bound by any law to appoint another Republican to the post.
Since 2016, the Supreme Court’s makeup has shifted from a 4-3 Republican majority to a 5-2 Democratic advantage. Registered Democrats unseated Republican incumbents in both 2016 and 2018 elections.
Former Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Martin as chief justice in September 2014 to replace the retiring Sarah Parker. Martin won a full eight-year term as chief justice in an election two months later. He had served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court since 1999.
Martin had been both the youngest justice in N.C. Supreme Court history and the youngest judge elected to the N.C. Court of Appeals. He served on that court from 1994 to 1999 after two years as a Superior Court judge in Pitt County. Martin had served as legal counsel to former Republican N.C. Gov. Jim Martin before taking the bench.
Earlier this month, Martin helped the N.C. Supreme Court celebrate its 200th anniversary. He invoked Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers essay No. 78 in urging colleagues to set aside “preferences and opinions” in adhering to the rule of law.
“Each of us, as unique individuals, and thus as unique jurists, may not always administer the principles of Federalist 78 in the same exact way as other judges,” Martin explained. “The key is that we each strive to do so — that we understand that the judicial office is not a political office. Courts are a co-equal branch but with a different function than the legislative and executive branches.”
“We understand that judges should defer to the other branches on issues of policy as long as constitutional standards are observed,” Martin said. “By assuming a seat on this bench, we lay down our preferences and opinions in joint pursuit of upholding the rule of law.”