The N.C. Supreme Court hears its first oral arguments of 2023 on Tuesday morning. Four cases scheduled from 9:30 a.m. through 3 p.m. mark the first public business for the court since voters made a significant change in its partisan composition.
New Justices Trey Allen and Richard Dietz, both Republicans, replaced two Democratic justices on Jan. 1. Allen had unseated incumbent Justice Sam “Jimmy” Ervin IV in the November general election, while Dietz won an open race to replace the retiring Justice Robin Hudson.
The Republican wins flipped partisan composition of the state’s highest court from 4-3 favoring Democrats to 5-2 favoring Republicans. This year marks the first time since 2016 that Republicans hold the majority of state Supreme Court seats.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Republicans are likely to hold a partisan advantage on the court through the next two election cycles. Court seats now held by Democrats are up for election in 2024 and 2026.
An early high-profile case that could lead to partisan divisions is Community Success Initiative v. Moore, scheduled for Thursday morning. That case could decide whether as many as 56,000 convicted felons will remain eligible to vote in N.C. elections. Previous court orders allowed felons on parole, probation, or post-release supervision to vote last November.
Felon voting advocates pushed for the state Supreme Court to resolve their legal dispute last year. Justices declined to expedite the case so it could be decided by the outgoing court. An Oct. 6 court order did indicate that the felon voting case should be addressed in the first 2023 session of the newly convened court.
The Supreme Court has posted an oral argument schedule for the next two weeks. In addition to the felon voting case, the court will address another case that has attracted interest from Carolina Journal.
In Mole’ v. City of Durham, scheduled for a Feb. 9 oral argument, a fired police sergeant is challenging his dismissal. The case is tied to Michael Mole’s decision to allow a suspect to smoke a marijuana “blunt” after the suspect agreed to end an armed standoff with authorities.
At the N.C. Court of Appeals, the case raised issues of potential violations of Mole’s right to “the fruits of [his] own labor.” The opening section of the N.C. Constitution’s Declaration of Rights protects people’s right to earn a livelihood.
Justices will also hear cases linked to death penalty issues on Feb. 8.
The court has not yet announced whether it will rehear two high-profile election-related cases decided last month. State legislative leaders have asked the court to reconsider Harper v. Hall, a case focusing on challenged state election maps, and Holmes v. Moore, which threw out North Carolina’s 2018 voter identification law.
Lawmakers filed petitions on Jan. 20 calling for rehearing of both cases. The state Supreme Court has one month to decide whether to grant lawmakers’ request.
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