A surprise candidate filing has significantly altered the political landscape in one of North Carolina’s most important 2022 political races. It’s a contest to fill a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court.

A high-profile Republican primary that will decide who meets Democrat incumbent Jimmy Ervin in the fall had a new entry just as the candidate filing period closed.

Republican Victoria Prince of Greensboro filed to run for Ervin’s Seat 5 on the N.C. Supreme Court. Republicans Trey Allen and Appeals Court Judge April Wood have been campaigning across the state for weeks in the same race.

This spring, Wood, elected to the Appeals Court as a Republican candidate in 2020, announced she would seek to move up to the state Supreme Court in 2022.  Wood defeated Democrat Tricia Shields, 51.7% to 48.2%, a margin of 190,456 votes in her 2020 Appeals Court race.

Wood announced:

“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. We need strong, hardworking candidates in order to win the conservative majority on the Supreme Court next year.”

Allen is a UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government professor and general counsel at the state Administrative Office of the Courts.  He is a former clerk for current Chief Justice Paul Newby. Allen’s campaign website highlights his close relationship with Newby.

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.

As chief justice, Newby oversees the entire state court system through the Administrative Office of the Courts. He appointed Allen to serve as the office’s general counsel.

While Newby cannot and will not directly endorse Allen, when you are appointed by the chief justice to represent his legal position as head of the judicial branch, an implied endorsement is pretty strong.

According to her online profile, Prince is an attorney with the Penry Terry and Mitchell law firm out of Lexington. She handles child custody, child support, equitable distribution, alimony, domestic violence, absolute divorce, wills, and estates.

Carolina Journal could find almost no online information on her campaign. No website, no Twitter handle, and no campaign Facebook page. CJ received no campaign announcement.

Whether it is intentional or conscious, Prince’s entry into the race is a big boost to Allen.  In a race that no candidate will be able to raise enough money to persuade or “touch” many of the primary voters, two women splitting the vote vsersus one man is a significant advantage. However, Wood has strong support among some dedicated grass-roots Republican activists.

Ervin, the incumbent, faces no Democrat primary opposition. He is the grandson of U.S. Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr. and the son of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sam J. Ervin III. The Ervin name still carries considerable weight in Burke County and the western part of the state. However, Justice Ervin has never appeared on the ballot as a Democrat. His previous races were nonpartisan.

In more recent years, North Carolina’s statewide judicial races have closely tracked the political environment and the “generic ballot.”

In 2020, when President Donald Trump won North Carolina, Republicans won all eight statewide judicial races, with victory margins between 0.1% and 2.4%.

With a strong political wind at their backs, Republicans are aggressively targeting the two Supreme Court races. Republicans only need to win one of the two to flip control of the state’s highest court to a GOP majority.

Republicans are apoplectic over Democrats’ attempts to remove GOP justices from cases, the possible invalidation of two voter-approved constitutional amendments, and the recent party-line invalidation of redistricting maps.

In the other Supreme Court race (seat 3) for the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Justice Robin Hudson, Republican Richard Dietz and Democrat Lucy Inman will face off for the seat. Diertz and Inman are both judges on the N.C. Court of Appeals.

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

Inman, a registered Democrat, is the daughter of author Lucy Daniels, granddaughter of former White House Press Secretary Jonathan Daniels, and great-granddaughter of News and Observer publisher and U.S. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels.

Dietz 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.

In total two Supreme Court races will be on the ballot this fall, along with four races for Court of Appeals.

For the Appeals Court (Seat 9), incumbent Donna Stroud faces a challenge in the GOP primary from Beth Freshwater Smith, with the winner facing Democrat Brad Salmon in the fall. Two Republicans, Charlton Allen and Michael Stading, face off to win their party’s nomination for another contest (seat 11) on the Court of Appeals in the primary, with the winner facing incumbent Democrat Darren Jackson in the fall. Jackson was appointed to the Court of Appeals by Gov. Roy Cooper. Jackson is the former minority leader in the state House.

In the last two Court of Appeals seats, Democrat Carolyn Jennings Thompson and Republican Julee Tate Flood (seat 8) will meet as, will Democrat Gale Murray Adams and incumbent Republican John Tyson (Seat 10).