RALEIGH, N.C. — Two Republicans running for seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court beat their Democratic opponents, flipping the partisan makeup of the high court in Republicans’ favor for the first time since 2016.
Republican Trey Allen, general counsel for the state court system, defeated sitting Democratic Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV for his seat. And Republican Court of Appeals Judge Richard Dietz defeated Democratic Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman.
Democrats held a slim 4-3 majority on the panel heading into this year. With two Democrat-held seats up for election, Republicans only needed to win one to retake control.
Democrats have warned that Republican control of the judiciary could push state law to the right on a number of key issues, including abortion access, redistricting, voting and gun control. North Carolina is among a handful of states with intense judicial races, and high outside spending, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June to let states decide the legality of abortion.
2 races set partisan control of North Carolina high court
Two competitive races for North Carolina Supreme Court seats that flew under the radar determined the partisan makeup of the state’s highest court and laid the groundwork for upcoming legal battles over significant policy matters.
Before the midterms, Democrats held a slim 4-3 majority on the panel. But with two Democrat-held seats up for election, Republicans only needed to win one to flip the majority in their favor for the first time since 2016.
Democratic Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV ran for his second 8-year term against Republican Trey Allen, the general counsel for the state court system. And Court of Appeals Judges Richard Dietz, a Republican, and Lucy Inman, a Democrat, ran to succeed retiring Democratic Associate Justice Robin Hudson. A Republican victory gives the party a majority for several years, as the next two seats up for reelection are also held by Democrats.
The judicial elections came in the final months of a tumultuous two-year court term distinguished by several split decisions favoring the Democratic majority. These high-profile rulings, some involving redistricting, criminal justice and voter ID laws, have drawn criticism from both sides that the judiciary has become too politicized. Now, all four candidates have run on a similar platform: a vow to keep their personal politics from interfering with their rulings.
North Carolina introduced partisan state supreme court elections following the 2016 cycle after the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation to list the judicial candidates’ party affiliations on the ballot. Lawmakers introduced the bill shortly after Democrats gained a majority on the high court that November.
Democrats have warned that Republican control of the court could push state law to the right on a number of key issues, including abortion access, redistricting and gun control. It also opens the door for Republicans to draw a more politically beneficial congressional map after this election cycle and create a new avenue to weaken Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s policy initiatives.
North Carolina Democrats appeared successful — but just barely — in preserving Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto power to block Republican bills on abortion and other divisive issues by tamping down GOP seat gains at the General Assembly.
Voters in 32 states casted ballots this year in state supreme court contests, which became spending targets for interest groups nationwide. North Carolina — one of the most closely watched states due to its historically close partisan divide — has drawn millions in outside spending for the judicial races since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June to let states decide the legality of abortion.
Abortions are legal in the Tar Heel state until 20 weeks of pregnancy, as of an Aug. 17 federal court ruling, with narrow exceptions for medical emergencies that threaten the life of the pregnant person. North Carolina remains one of the few abortion access points in the Southeast as its neighboring states slash abortion protections. Republican legislative leaders have said they plan to consider further abortion restrictions in 2023.
While none of the candidates have directly stated their positions on abortion, Ervin and Inman have received endorsements from abortion rights proponents, including Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic.
(WATCH BELOW: SEE: Voters head to polls for 2022 midterm elections)
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