High stakes in North Carolina court races with majority online

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — Both North Carolina Supreme Court the seats in the November elections took on added importance as the result could overturn the partisan composition of the court during a period of political polarization.

Registered Democrats hold a 4-3 field advantage, but Republicans would regain a majority for the first time since 2016 if they win at least one race. The seats carry eight-year terms, so barring unscheduled retirements, Republicans would be guaranteed to hold the upper hand for at least 4½ years if successful.

What do you want to know

  • Election stakes for a pair of North Carolina Supreme Court seats this fall are high
  • Results could overturn court’s partisan composition during a time of political polarization
  • Registered Democrats hold a 4-3 field advantage, but Republicans would retake majority with at least one win
  • The next Supreme Court could consider a host of divisive issues, including abortion, especially if Republican lawmakers win anti-veto majorities in Raleigh so Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper can’t easily stop the laws.
  • Elections feature Justice Sam Ervin IV, two sitting Court of Appeals judges and the state court system’s general counsel

Outside groups spend big to influence races. In the two largest television markets alone, two super PACs have pledged to spend about $3 million on ads, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

In keeping with this year’s non-judicial elections, the ads focused on crime and abortion.

North Carolina is one of the handful of states with intense races in the high courts following the US Supreme Court’s ruling giving states the power to decide the legality of abortion. Abortions are legal in North Carolina up to 20 weeks pregnant — with some health exceptions thereafter — making the state an option for women in more restrictive states nearby.

Appeals Court Justices Richard Dietz, a Republican, and Lucy Inman, a Democrat, are seeking to succeed retired Associate Justice Robin Hudson. And Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV, a Democrat, is seeking re-election against Republican Trey Allen, who is currently the state court system’s general counsel.

Republican Party documents from the state refer to Allen and Dietz as “conservative justices.” And at a recent Democratic Party rally, Gov. Roy Cooper urged the election of Inman and Ervin “because they’re going to be fair and uphold the law.”

During interviews, the four candidates offered government commitments without partisan and ideological programs if they were elected.

“My vote in each case will be based on my best understanding of the law and the facts, and my personal politics will not enter into the equation,” Allen said.

Ervin, the grandson of late Watergate committee chairman Sen. Sam Ervin Jr., said he had already met that standard during his appeals career, calling himself “rather allergic to ideological labels”. .

Beyond the usual legal disputes, the justices could hear challenges to policies passed by a Republican-controlled General Assembly that could win non-veto majorities in November. These could include voting, gun and abortion legislation that Cooper has stopped through threats or actual vetoes since 2019. Lawmakers must also redraw congressional districts, which are not subject to a veto.

Republican leaders in North Carolina plan to consider new abortion restrictions in 2023, but have not reached a consensus.

North Carolina Supreme Court nominees speak during a panel discussion at the North Carolina Supreme Court Nominees Forum at Duke University Law School in Durham, North Carolina, Wednesday, October 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Karl DeBlaker)

The liberal-leaning North Carolina Families First PAC jumped on the abortion issue, airing a TV ad accusing Allen and Dietz of holding “extreme views” that “could allow lawmakers to criminalize abortions, forcing women and girls to give birth”.

Judges and candidates for the judiciary are subject to rules aimed at guaranteeing impartiality on the questions on which they could rule. Allen and Dietz said they would approach any case without presumption about how they would govern.

“When I see ads like that, I’m disappointed because I think it reinforces this idea to the public that the judges have already made up their minds,” Dietz said.

Advertisements from the outside group Stop Liberal Judges argue that an Inman-drafted ruling and an Ervin-accepted one that prevented some convicted pedophiles from being electronically tracked for decades are proof they “are not protecting our children.”

Inman, who joined the Court of Appeals in early 2015 and ran unsuccessfully for the Supreme Court in 2020, called them a “false and misleading libel” that belies her record as a trial judge and appeal judge.

“It is wrong and the antithesis of the law to exploit child victims for political gain,” she said.

The election comes at the end of a two-year term marked by several high-profile split decisions – in favor of the Democratic majority – involving redistricting, voter’s card and criminal justice case.

Democratic politicians and their allies hailed these majority opinions as victories for equality and justice. Dissenting opinions from Republican judges have at times been scathing, accusing the other side of judicial activism.

“It was a very challenging and challenging tenure,” said former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr.

Not to mention specific cases, Ervin pushed back against the idea that partisanship has seeped into mainstream opinion.

“To say that a group of people who vote together are voting for partisan purposes is not really a fair accusation in the absence of some showing that the decision which is under consideration was not legally supported,” he said. said Ervin, who if re-elected would have to back down. end of 2027 for mandatory retirement at age 72.

Allen and Dietz highlighted the court’s perceived public image.

“I am increasingly concerned about what I think is a growing public perception that the court acts or has acted more as a political body than a legal body,” said Allen, who, in as General Counsel, works under Republican Chief Justice Paul. Newby.

Dietz said he has never written a dissenting opinion since joining the Court of Appeals in 2014, reflecting his willingness to work with colleagues.

“To get stronger decisions and also to reassure the public that justice is being served is by bringing people together and getting to that outcome that everyone agrees on,” Dietz said.

Inman said there were good reasons for his dissenting opinions, some of which were eventually adopted by the Supreme Court.

“It’s better to have experience knowing when to uphold the law, and going ahead to get along doesn’t serve that purpose,” she said.

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