In Tuesday’s 2022 midterm elections, Republican candidates came out ahead in the state’s six statewide judicial races. On the ballot were two seats on the N.C. Supreme Court and four seats on the state Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court wins shift the bench from leaning Democrat to leaning Republican. The new court will be seated in January, 2023.
Trey Allen beat incumbent justice Samuel “Jimmy Ervin IV” for seat 5 on the high court, by 52% to 47% . Ervin had been on the court since winning election in 2014, and reliably sided with Democrat colleagues on controversial decisions including Leandro and Voter ID. Allen is the current general counsel for the N.C. Administrative Office of the Court and once clerked for current Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican.
In the Seat 3 race, Richard Dietz came out ahead of Lucy Inman by the same margin, 52% to 47%. The two candidates serve on the state Court of Appeals together. Dietz is a former Marine and ran on a promise to follow the text of the law and the Constitution.
The COA seat, once it is vacated by Dietz, would be filled with an appointment by Gov. Roy Cooper.
That is good news for Judge Darren Jackson, a Democrat who lost his seat on the Appeals Court Tuesday night to challenger and Republican Michael Stading 53% to 46%. Jackson, a former state legislator, had served on the Court of Appeals since he was appointed by Cooper in 2020. With Cooper having the power to fill Dietz’s seat, Jackson may be on his short list again.
Republican Court of Appeals Judge Donna Stroud won re-election as did Republican Judge John Tyson. Republican Julee Flood, currently an attorney for the COA, won her election for the seat being vacated by Inman.
The state Supreme Court now having a more conservative lean may also impact the policy calls of Republican leadership in the N.C. General Assembly. Republicans have been fighting to defend their policies at the highest levels of the state’s judiciary since taking control of the legislature in 2010, as left-leaning advocacy groups sought to overturn their work in the courts. Now, after Tuesday’s state legislative races gave Republicans some pick ups overall, the N.C. Senate has a supermajority to override Democrat Gov. Cooper’s veto pen, and the House is within one vote of it.
“Republicans have developed a track record of winning one-on-one court races because people like conservative judges,” said political analyst and columnist Dallas Woodhouse. “Instead of automatically striking down Republican legislation that Democrats simply don’t like, the new originalist court will adhere to the exact text of the State Constitution, resulting in duly enacted laws of the legislature being viewed as constitutional until proven otherwise. Whereas, the current left-leaning court forced lawmakers to prove their actions were constitutional, showing deference to interest groups who didn’t want their policy measures enacted in the first place.”
The state Supreme Court is made up of six associate justices who serve eight-year terms, plus a chief justice who is elected separately. Current Chief Justice Paul Newby was elected in 2020 to the role, and will reach mandatory retirement age in May 2027.
The timing of this year’s election means that Republicans would keep a majority on the high court until 2028. With the defeat of Ervin and the retirement of Associate Justice Robin Hudson, also a Democrat, Associate Justice Michael Morgan and Associate Justice Anita Earls are the only Democrats. Their seats are the next to be on the ballot, but in different cycles.
Morgan was elected in 2016 over then-incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds, a Republican. Morgan is the next member of the court to face re-election in the 2024 general election. He would meet the mandatory retirement age in 2028, four years before his potential second term would expire.
Earls, a civil rights attorney, and former executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, was elected in 2018 over Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson, and faces re-election in the 2026 midterms. Republican Associate Justices Tamara Barringer and Phil Berger Jr. were elected in 2020 and face re-election in 2028.
“The days of a hyper-partisan politically driven Democrat Supreme Court are over but the damage they did to the courts reputation will continue for decades,” Woodhouse added.