Two seats up for election on the North Carolina Supreme Court

Two North Carolina Supreme Court seats are up for partisan election on November 8, 2022.

Heading into the election, there are four Democrats and three Republicans on the court. Two justices’ terms will expire on Dec. 31, 2022. According to The Associated Press, the election has “taken on extra significance as the outcome could flip the court’s partisan makeup during a period of political polarization.”

Justice Robin Hudson (D) did not run for re-election in 2022 because she is nearing the court’s mandatory retirement age. Lucy N. Inman (D) and Richard Dietz (R), both judges on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, are running to succeed her.

Incumbent Justice Sam Ervin IV (D) is running for re-election against Trey Allen (R). Ervin was elected to the court in 2014. Allen is general counsel for the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

The Associated Press stated, “Beyond usual legal conflicts, justices could hear challenges to policies enacted by a Republican-controlled General Assembly that could earn veto-proof majorities in November. Those could include legislation on voting, guns and abortion that [Gov. Roy Cooper (D)] has stopped by threatened or actual vetoes since 2019. Lawmakers also must redraw congressional districts, which aren’t subject to veto.” 

Following multiple legal challenges during the 2020 redistricting cycle, court-appointed special masters drew a temporary congressional map for the 2022 midterm elections. North Carolina congressional redistricting is at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court case Moore v. Harper, and redistricting litigation is also ongoing in state court.

The Carolina Journal’s Donna King wrote in October, “Partisan politics on the high court have come under scrutiny, particularly as battles over the state’s redistricting maps, voter ID, felon voting, and other partisan issues have made their way to the justices who, generally, have voted along partisan lines.”

According to Axios Raleigh’s Lucille Sherman and Danielle Chemtob, “All four candidates have emphasized that they will make decisions independent of their party. They say they aim to restore the public’s faith in the courts, as it’s become increasingly polarized in recent years.”

Spending in these two races puts North Carolina in the top three states for most expensive supreme court races in 2022. Satellite groups have spent millions of dollars on ads focusing on crime and abortion.

According to King, “In both races the Democrats are out-raising the Republicans, based in part on money raised by national Democrats with an eye on abortion law in N.C. However, in recent polling Republicans are outperforming the Democrats with likely voters.”

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats had a 6-1 majority on the court. Republicans gained two net seats, with incumbent Associate Justice Paul Martin Newby (R) defeating incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D) by 412 votes in the race for chief justice and Tamara Barringer (R) defeating incumbent Associate Justice Mark A. Davis (D) 51.2% to 48.8%.

North Carolina voters have elected supreme court justices in partisan elections since 2018. Supreme court justices are elected to eight-year terms.

North Carolina is one of 30 states holding elections for state supreme court in 2022. This year, 84 of the 344 seats on state supreme courts are up for election. Of those, 64 are held by nonpartisan justices, 13 are held by Republican justices, and eight are held by Democratic justices.