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Democratic NC Supreme Court Justice Won’t Seek Re-Election

Democratic NC Supreme Court Justice Won’t Seek Re-Election

Protesters attend a 2019 anti-gerrymandering rally in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

By Michael McElroy

May 19, 2023

Justice Michael Morgan’s announcement highlights the consequences of judicial elections on issues like abortion rights, voting, and gerrymandering.

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan, one of only two Democrats on the state’s highest court, announced this week that he would not seek re-election in 2024.

Morgan was the only justice facing an election this cycle, but his announcement highlights the importance of judicial elections in the state, and what happens when they go unnoticed by voters. 

These elections have become hyper-partisan in recent years and groups supporting both parties have poured lots of money and attention into the state’s  judicial campaigns.

The 2022 midterms showed why.

Republicans won both open seats on the court last November, flipping the court from a 4-3 Democratic advantage to a 5-2 Republican majority. 

The new court went right to work and quickly overturned two critical election-related cases it had decided just a few months earlier. 

The court declared it had no authority to stop the Republican-controlled General Assembly from drawing partisan election maps that would tilt elections in the GOP’s favor. 

And it said it also had no power to stop a voter ID law that multiple studies and several other courts said would disproportionately affect people of color.

These reversals of the court’s previous rulings give the Republican-controlled General Assembly the ability to entrench their power, without checks or balances. Morgan, along with the other Democrat on the court, Justice Anita Earls, dissented in each case.

The new GOP-controlled court is also more likely than its predecessor to uphold North Carolina Republicans’ new 12-week abortion ban, should it face legal challenges. 

It’s unclear who will run for Morgan’s seat.

State Supreme Court justices serve eight year terms, so the 2024 election won’t tip the balance of the court, but if Democrats lose the seat, it will take them many more election cycles to potentially win back control of the court. 

Morgan was born in Cherry Point, North Carolina, and was one of five students to integrate the New Bern public school system, his court bio says. He graduated from the North Carolina Central University School of Law and has held several judgeships, including on the Wake County District Court and the State Superior Court.

“I’ve relished the challenge of making contributions to the rule of law which are fair, correct and enduring,” Morgan told WRAL Thursday. “And I would hope that I’ll be remembered as a faithful servant of the people of North Carolina.”

Author

  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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