Voters in 2020 gave Republicans more seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court, including elevating Republican Paul Newby to the Chief Justice seat. But Democrats maintain a 4-3 political advantage on the court. So what does it mean for future rulings? That’s the question addressed by Mitch Kokai, the John Locke Foundation’s senior political analyst, in Mitch’s latest Carolina Journal column. He looks at the history of the North Carolina Supreme Court for a hint of what could be ahead.
Conditions changed after 2018. Democrats flipped an additional seat in that year’s election, then picked up a sixth seat in 2019 when a Republican resignation opened up a spot for a Cooper appointee.
As the Supreme Court’s only remaining Republican, Newby proved to be his colleagues’ most frequent critic. He dissented 54 times over the next two years. (No one else cast more than 25 dissenting votes.) But Newby did not always speak as a lone wolf. Ervin voted alongside Newby in dissent 11 times. Morgan and Newby dissented in 13 of the same cases.
Some of those cases proved politically consequential. Morgan and Newby bucked the majority in a pair of high-profile cases involving questionable leniency for sexual predators. Ervin and Newby differed on the legal reasoning — but reached the same result — in objecting to a court decision that freed a convicted murderer from death row.
Both Ervin and Morgan remain on the Supreme Court today. Recent history suggests that either one could prove willing to join Republicans in a split decision, even if that means voting against fellow Democrats. Strong legal reasoning could prove persuasive in winning Ervin’s or Morgan’s support.
Read the entire piece for more of Mitch Kokai’s analysis of the North Carolina Supreme Court. And then watch this conversation I had with Carolina Journal Editor-in-Chief Rick Henderson, who offers his own perspective on the new configuration of the state’s highest court.