News: CJ Exclusives

Snapshots of the candidates running in statewide appellate court races

As Carolina Journal has reported, the outcome of the election for three justices on the N.C. Supreme Court may determine whether state government returns to the structure it’s largely followed over the past half-century. Separation of powers, but with the legislative branch in charge of most policymaking.

Or will it continue a path of ascending executive authority, with courts essentially rubber-stamping a governor’s edicts?

Democrats control the Supreme Court by a 6-1 margin. They’ve shown little interest in interpreting the law as written and instead in setting policy from the bench, says Jon Guze, John Locke Foundation legal studies director.

Three of the seven seats are on the ballot, including chief justice, who is also the state’s top court administrator. Appointed incumbent Democrat Cheri Beasley is seeking her first full term as chief. She’ll face Justice Paul Newby. By taking on Beasley, Newby has opened the possibility Democrats could hold all seven seats on a court that would shift dramatically to the left.

But wait … there’s more!

Five seats are on the ballot for the N.C. Court of Appeals. Members of this 15-judge body serve eight-year terms. Three-judge panels of this court decide cases appealed from district or superior courts. Its role is to decide whether the trial courts correctly applied the law.

The Court of Appeals is often overlooked, but typically it has the final word on state legal disputes. The state Supreme Court doesn’t have to hear appeals of unanimous decisions from the appellate court. But if a three-judge panel splits 2-1, and the lawsuit is appealed, the Supreme Court must review the case.

The eight Republicans running for appellate court seats — three for the Supreme Court and five for the Court of Appeals — are running as a conservative ticket. Douglas Keith of the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University told CJ earlier this year this is the first time nationally he’s seen a group of appellate court candidates coordinate their campaigns so closely.

Here’s a brief introduction to the candidates running for the eight appellate seats. Information came from questionnaires, materials published by the State Board of Elections, and candidate websites. (* =  incumbent)

• Candidate profile, Beasley vs. Newby

NameCheri Beasley*

Party: Democratic

Running for: Chief Justice, N.C. Supreme Court

Background: Appointed chief justice by Gov. Roy Cooper in March 2019. Served on the Supreme Court since 2012, when she was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bev. Perdue. Served four years on the N.C. Court of Appeals between 2008 and 2012. Beasley worked as an assistant public defender in Cumberland County before 1999, the year former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt appointed her as a state District Court judge.

Education: Undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, law degree from University of Tennessee College of Law.

Judicial philosophy: “Making sure we are interpreting the laws that are made by the General Assembly, and that we are not tempted by any particular slant.”

NamePaul Newby

Party: Republican

Running for: Chief Justice, N.C. Supreme Court

Background: Supreme Court justice since 2005. Adjunct professor at Campbell University Law School. Served nearly 20 years as an assistant U.S. district attorney in eastern North Carolina.

Education: Undergraduate degree from Duke University, law degree from UNC Chapel Hill

Judicial philosophy: Constitutional consistency, predictability, equal justice under the law.

 

• Candidate profile, Inman vs. Berger

NameLucy Inman

Party: Democratic

Running for: N.C. Supreme Court Seat 2

Background: Judge on the N.C. Court of Appeals since 2014. Appoined by Gov. Bev Perdue to N.C. Superior Court in 2010. In private practice from 1992-2010.

Education: Undergraduate degree from N.C. State University, law degree from UNC Chapel Hill

Judicial philosophy: Believes in the importance of stability and respect for the Constitution. “Leave partisan politics on the courthouse steps.”

Name: Phil Berger, Jr.

Party: Republican

Running for: N.C. Supreme Court Seat 2

Background: Elected to N.C. Court of Appeals in 2016. Administrative law judge for the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, 2015-16. Elected district attorney in Prosecutorial District 17A, 2006-15.

Education: Undergraduate from UNC Wilmington, law degree from Wake Forest University

Judicial philosophy: Believes in limited government and judicial restraint. “I’m a conservative judge, first and foremost.”

 

• Candidate profile, Davis vs. Barringer

Name: Mark Davis*

Party: Democratic

Running for: N.C. Supreme Court Seat 4

Background: Appointed by Cooper to N.C. Supreme Court, March 2019. Judge, N.C. Court of Appeals, 2013-19. General counsel, Governor Perdue’s office, 2011-13. Special deputy attorney general, N.C. Department of Justice, 2006-11. Private practice lawyer 1993-2006.

Education: Undergraduate and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill

Judicial philosophy: “Our job is to interpret. I think it’s improper for judges to let their personal feelings [affect] how they decide a case.”

Name: Tamara Barringer

Party: Republican

Running for: N.C. Supreme Court Seat 4

Background: State senator, Wake County, 2013-18. Private practice lawyer and a law professor at UNC Chapel Hill.

Education: Undergraduate and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill

Judicial philosophy: Believes in the constitutional interpretation of laws passed by the General Assembly. “It is imperative that we have justices who refrain from legislating from the bench.”

 

N.C. Court of Appeals

• Seat 4: Wood vs. Shields

Name: April Wood

Party: Republican

Occupation: N.C. District Court Judge

Judicial philosophy: “Judges are to interpret and apply the laws as they’re written, and it is these conservative principles that ensure every citizen receives a fair and just decision.”

Name: Tricia Shields

Party: Democratic

Occupation: Private practice lawyer, trial and appellate litigation

Judicial philosophy: “A Court of Appeals judge must apply the law as written and ensure that is it applied equally to everyone, regardless of their race, gender, or political affiliation.”

 

• Seat 5: Gore vs. Cubbage 

Name: Fred Gore

Party: Republican

Occupation: N.C. District Court Judge

Judicial philosophy: “I will follow the Constitution and never create law.”

Name: Lora Christine Cubbage

Party: Democratic

Occupation: N.C. Superior Court Judge

Judicial philosophy: “I understand the need for an independent, fair, and competent jurist that is needed to do the important work on the N.C. Court of Appeals.”

 

• Seat 6: Dillon vs. Styers 

Name: Chris Dillon*

Party: Republican

Occupation:  N.C. Court of Appeals Judge (elected 2012)

Judicial philosophy: “I am seeking re-election because I believe our court would benefit from my judicial experience. … If re-elected, [I] would become our court’s 2nd most senior judge.”

Name: Gray Styers

Party:  Democratic

Occupation: Private practice lawyer

Judicial philosophy: “A free society depends upon judges being fair, impartial, and independent. I will not be beholden to any special interest or particular ideology.”

• Seat 7: Carpenter vs. Young

Name: Jeff Carpenter

Party: Republican

Occupation: N.C. Superior Court Judge

Judicial philosophy: “I will continue to protect our Constitution and the constitutional rights of those appearing in court. … I will not legislate from the bench.” 

Name: Reuben F. Young*

Party:  Democratic

Occupation: N.C. Court of Appeals judge (appointed 2019)

Judicial philosophy: “Fairness and accessibility are the foundation upon which our justice system is built. I have and will continue to advocate for equal access to the courts and a fair, impartial, and independent judiciary.”

 

• Seat 13: Griffin vs. Brook

Name: Jefferson Griffin

Party: Republican

Occupation: N.C District Court judge; Captain, N.C. Army National Guard JAG

Judicial philosophy: Values — Constitution-first rulings. Protecting rule of law. Integrity in the courtroom. Service to our community.

Name: Chris Brook*

Party: Democratic

Occupation: N.C. Court of Appeals judge (appointed 2019)

Judicial philosophy: “I pledge to be an independent member of the judiciary and to administer without favoritism justice that is consistent with the laws of North Carolina and our state and federal constitutions.”