RALEIGH – Over the weekend news broke that Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Mark Martin, a Republican, is resigning to become dean of Regent University Law School in Virginia. It came as a surprise to many, and alarmed Republicans upon the realization that his decision will likely result in a 6-1 Democrat majority on the bench.
Martin is the longest serving justice on the high court, beginning his tenure in 1999. In a written statement, Martin spoke of a calling to influence the next generation of leaders:
“It has been the highest of honors to serve the people of North Carolina as their Chief Justice. I will forever cherish the memories of serving with so many amazing and capable people. It is now time to direct my focus to helping prepare the next generation of leaders.”
His retirement will take effect next month, and then a replacement will be chosen by Gov. Roy Cooper to serve until the next election. That reality brings the consequences of North Carolinians’ choice to not reform the way judicial vacancies are filled into full relief. Among the six Constitutional Amendments on the November 2018 ballot of voters to consider, one would have taken the power to fill judicial vacancies from the exclusive control of the governor and vested more of that power in the legislature.
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While Democrats naturally opposed the amendments proposed by Republican lawmakers, some Republican leaders, notably former Republican governors, also campaigned against the measure along with another that would have reformed the State Board of Elections. Their opposition bolstered the Left’s campaign to “Nix all Six” amendments.
— Sen. Dan Bishop (@jdanbishop) January 26, 2019
Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) has a good point. Gov. Roy Cooper will now be in total control of who fills Martin’s vacant seat, making for a massively Left-leaning Supreme Court. Had the amendment in question passed, the legislature would have had the primary role in vetting and nominating a shortlist of jurists for the governor to select from. The people’s voice would have been represented, all sides would have input, and the governor would still have the ability to select from group vetted and approved by the General Assembly.
Now we are left to wonder just what kind of jurist Cooper will offer to replace Martin and benefit from incumbency come new elections in 2020.
Still, Republicans have to play the hand their dealt, and Martin’s resignation could pave the way for the high court’s lone Republican to pursue the chief justice role.
Breaking: I personally just spoke to Justice Paul Newby and can confirm he will run for Chief Justice in 2020. @NCGOP
— Dallas Woodhouse (@DallasWoodhouse) January 25, 2019
Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby is a respected jurist, dedicated to the constitution as written, and his integrity is beyond question. He’d be an excellent chief justice.
That being said, Newby’s intention to run for chief justice leaves his seat on the bench open. Monday morning Judge Phil Berger Jr., currently serving on the N.C. Court of Appeals, announced his intentions to run for Justice Newby’s seat.
In a statement distributed on social media Berger, the son of N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), said he intends to fill the void on the Supreme Court with the help of voters that hold judicial integrity and deference to the constitution in high regard.
“[…] We are fortunate that Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby has already indicated his willingness to be our next Chief Justice. Justice Newby’s seat will now be an open seat for the 2020 election.
The purpose of this letter is let you know that I am interested in running for Justice Newby’s seat on the Supreme Court.
In 2016, thanks to your generous support and the votes of more than 2.2 million North Carolinians, we were able to defeat an incumbent judge and win a seat on the Court of Appeals. If we run for the Supreme Court, Jodie and I will need your help again.[…]”
With any luck, Republicans will be able to hold the line in 2020, keeping at least two Republicans on the bench. Let’s hope the NCGOP’s efforts to don’t match the lackadaisical defense of Justice Barbara Jackson’s seat in 2018, or Justice Bob Edmunds seat in 2016. There is too much at stake to simply cede the State’s highest court to the Left so they can continue undercutting the legislature on behalf of Democrats.