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Daily Journal: High court rejects role as Democratic backstop

John Locke Foundation’s Mitch Kokai writes for Carolina Journal’s Daily Journal:

Much of the conversation surrounding this year’s N.C. Supreme Court election focuses on the potential impact for the court’s partisan makeup.

That’s understandable. Party labels are returning to this year’s race. Neither party holds a large advantage within the current Supreme Court membership. The outcome of this year’s election could shift the partisan balance.

But last week’s Supreme Court decisions on proposed constitutional amendments send a clear message: Politicians should not rely on the state’s highest court to issue consistently partisan rulings.

Since Democrat Michael Morgan won the last Supreme Court election in 2016, the court has operated with four registered Democrats and three Republicans. Morgan’s win had flipped the partisan balance from 4-3 Republican to 4-3 Democrat.

This partisan realignment has not created a seismic shift in the court’s rulings. In 123 opinions handed down since Morgan joined the court, the Democrats have formed a four-vote majority against three dissenting Republicans just three times. (In one other case, all seven justices agreed with the result in a particular case, but the Republicans wrote a concurring opinion since they disagreed with their Democratic colleagues on the legal basis for the decision.)

This court has issued fewer 4-3 rulings split along party lines (three) than 4-3 rulings in other configurations (seven). In five of the remaining 4-3 splits, all three Republicans joined a single Democrat to form a majority for a particular case.

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