High stakes N. Carolina court games with the majority online

High stakes N. Carolina court games with the majority online

The two North Carolina Supreme Court seats up for election in November have taken on added significance, as the outcome could flip the court’s partisan makeup during a period of political polarization.

Registered Democrats hold a 4-3 advantage on the floor, but Republicans will retake the majority for the first time since 2016 if they win at least one race. The seats have eight-year terms, so barring unplanned retirements, Republicans will be sure to hold the upper hand for at least 4 1/2 years if they succeed.

Outside groups spend heavily to influence matches. 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 the non-judicial election this year, the ads focused on crime and abortion.

North Carolina is among a handful of states with hotly contested Supreme Court races after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it gives states the power to decide the legality of abortion. Abortions are legal in North Carolina up to 20 weeks pregnant — with some health exemptions afterward — making the state an option for women from more restrictive states in the region.

Court of Appeals Justices Richard Dietz, a Republican, and Lucy Inman, a Democrat, are seeking to succeed retiring Associate Justice Robin Hudson. And Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV, a Democrat, is seeking re-election against Republican Trey Allen, currently general counsel for the state judiciary.

State Republican Party materials describe Allen and Dietz as “conservative judges.” And at a recent Democratic Party rally, Gov. Roy Cooper urged the election of Inman and Ervin “because they will be fair and follow the law.”

In interviews, the four candidates offered pledges to govern without partisan and ideological agendas if 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 the late Watergate chairman Sen. Sam Ervin Jr., said he has already met that standard during his career on the appeals court, calling himself “pretty allergic to ideological labels.”

Beyond the usual legal battles, the justices could hear challenges to policies enacted by a Republican-controlled General Assembly that could win veto-free majorities in November. Those could include voting, gun and abortion legislation that Cooper has stalled due to threatened or actual vetoes since 2019. Lawmakers must also redraw congressional districts, which are not subject to vetoes.

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

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

Judges and prospective judges are subject to rules designed to ensure impartiality in the matters they might rule on. Allen and Dietz said they would approach any case without evidence of how they would rule.

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

Ads by the outside group Stop Liberal Judges argue that a ruling written by Inman and another agreed to by Ervin that blocked online monitoring of some convicted child sex offenders for decades is evidence that 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 smear” that belies her record as both a judge and appellate judge.

“It is wrong and against the law to exploit child victims for political gain,” he said.

The election comes at the end of a two-year court term marked by several high-profile divisive decisions — favoring the Democratic majority — involving redistricting, voter ID and criminal justice cases.

Democratic politicians and allies have hailed such majority views as victories for equality and justice. Dissenting views from Republican justices have been vociferous at times, accusing the other side of judicial activism.

“It was a very difficult and challenging period for the court,” said former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr.

While he did not speak to specific cases, Erwin pushed back against the idea that partisanship has seeped into majority opinion.

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

Allen and Dietz have emphasized the court’s perceived public image.

“I am increasingly concerned about what I believe is a growing public perception that the court acts or is acting more as a political body than a legal body,” said Allen, who 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, which reflects his willingness to work with colleagues.

“How you make stronger decisions and also how you reassure the public that justice is being served is to bring people together and get to that outcome that everyone agrees on,” Dietz said.

Inman said there was good reason for her dissent, some of which was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court.

“It’s best to have experience knowing when to stand up for the law, and getting along doesn’t serve that purpose,” he said.

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