A split N.C. Supreme Court could be a more politicized one

A split N.C. Supreme Court could be a more politicized one

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In one of the tightest elections in state history, Paul Newby defeated Cherri Beasley in the race for North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice by about 400 votes.

What’s new: Newby is one of the three Republican justices to win a seat on the state Supreme Court, changing the Democrats’ 6-1 majority to a much slimmer 4-3 majority.

Why it matters: As the highest state court, the N.C. Supreme Court plays a large role in determining the legality of contested laws — laws that are likely to affect you more than actions of a senator or a president. [Go deeper]

  • As an equal branch of government, the Supreme Court can play a large role when the House of Representatives and governor clash, which happens often between Democratic Governor Cooper and the majority Republican House.

What changes: Though Democratic justices still have a majority, Catawba College politics and history professor Michael Bitzer says to expect a more divided court.

  • “Party politics may play a role in some big issues. The court always likes to think that it’s an a-political institution. And for the most part, most decisions are taken in a non-partisan venue,” he says. “But if you got a case, like a redistricting case, that gets appealed, that could show the partisan division.”
NC Supreme Court Justices

NC Supreme Court Justices, spring 2019. Courtesy N.C. Judicial Branch.

Background:

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  • Paul Newby ran as a conservative judge who’s a constitutional and historical scholar. He’s the longest serving justice on the Supreme Court, and before the 2020 general election, he was the only Republican justice. Over the last several years on the court, he’s written several dissenting opinions.
  • Cherri Beasley, who was appointed by Governor Cooper in 2019 and was the first Black woman to serve as Chief Justice, ran as a Democrat.

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