Citing Gov. Roy Cooper’s own words about government “balance,” a leading N.C. senator is calling on the governor to elevate a Republican to serve as the next chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.
Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, also hopes Cooper will name another Republican to fill a judicial vacancy that takes effect at the end of February. In a news release, Daniel, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged the governor to take the court’s current partisan makeup into account as he decides how to address a court vacancy. That vacancy is linked to current Chief Justice Mark Martin’s pending resignation on Feb. 28.
“Gov. Cooper’s partisan allegiance should not take precedence over the will of the people who voted for the makeup as it currently is,” Daniel said in a prepared statement. “The makeup of the state Supreme Court, as decided by the voters, should continue to reflect the balance that Governor Cooper often discusses. For Gov. Cooper to give Democrats an extreme supermajority on the court would contradict his previous statement that ‘partisan politics has no place on the judges’ bench.’
“That is why I urge Gov. Cooper to follow the longstanding tradition and appoint current Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby to the vacant chief justice position, and then appoint a Republican associate justice to keep the same partisan makeup of the court until the people have a chance to vote in 2020.”
Democrats outnumber Republicans, 5-2, on the state Supreme Court now. Democrats gained a fifth seat in the 2018 election, when challenger Anita Earls unseated Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson. With the resignation of the Republican Martin, the Democratic governor has a chance to shift that partisan advantage to 6-1.
Daniel hopes Cooper will avoid that type of partisan shift. The news release references the “longstanding practice” of governors appointing the senior associate justice to serve as chief justice when that job becomes vacant. That would mean the elevation of Justice Paul Newby, a Republican who joined the high court in 2004. Both Martin and his predecessor, Democrat Sarah Parker, first became chief justice through appointment after serving as the senior associate justice.
The news release references Cooper’s previous comments about balanced government. “Gov. Cooper has previously made statements talking about the importance of balance in government,” according to the release. “After the 2018 Election, he said, ‘People sent the signal that they want more balance in the General Assembly,’ and the same argument can be made about the state Supreme Court. In 2018, the race for Supreme Court justice saw no candidate receive more than 50 percent of the vote.”
Earls won her seat with 49.6 percent of votes cast in 2018. Jackson earned 34 percent of the votes, while a second Republican, Chris Anglin, secured 16 percent.