Today’s Supreme Court decisions overturning Roe and Casey have a lot of people asking what they can do.
You can immediately donate to the Carolina Abortion Fund, Pro Choice NC, and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
It is also very important to ensure that abortion remains accessible in North Carolina. In immediate terms that means ensuring that Democrats in the legislature stay out of a super-minority and can continue to sustain Governor Cooper’s vetoes.
But it is also crucial to remember that this November, there’s an election for State Supreme Court in North Carolina.
One of the most powerful things you can do is ensure that both Justice Sam Ervin IV and Judge Lucy Inman are elected to the North Carolina State Supreme Court.
The NC State Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the state constitution.
Democrats currently hold the majority of the North Carolina State Supreme Court by a single vote. Two seats are up for grabs this year. If both Democrats don’t win, the NC State Supreme Court will have a Republican majority.
What the State Supreme Court does in North Carolina
The NC Supreme Court (NCSC) is the last line of defense for our constitutional rights in North Carolina. It is the body that ensures that all laws passed by the legislature, and all acts taken by the executive pass constitutional muster . The NCSC consists of a Chief Justice and six associate justices, all of whom serve eight-year, elected terms.
In addition to reviewing cases to determine if legal mistakes have been made, The NCSC is also charged with interpreting what our North Carolina constitution means, and ensuring that no laws or acts violate its protections.
For example, this year court examined four sections in our constitution (the free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause, and the freedom of assembly clause) and concluded that partisan gerrymandering violated each of these sections. In other words, North Carolinians have a special right, guaranteed to us in our constitution, that our votes must count equally.
As of 2014, the NC General Assembly has provided for two ways that constitutionality of state law can be challenged:
- “As applied” challenge (this means the way the law was used in a specific legal case)
- Facial challenge (this means the law is inherently unconstitutional no matter how it’s applied).
(The question of what is facial and what is “as applied” is a sticky one, with no real clear line to it)
If a state law is being challenged as inherently (facially) unconstitutional, a panel of three Superior Court judges rules on the law’s constitutionality. Because there is no standing judicial panel for these types of cases, the judges are appointed by the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. After Cheri Beasley’s narrow defeat in the last election, this means that Chief Justice Paul Newby now appoints these panels. The panels must be made up of judges from three areas of the state.
If a law is being challenged in an “as applied” challenge, the case goes to a single Superior Court judge.
After this initial ruling by the three judge panel, or the Superior Court a constitutional challenge can be (and usually is) appealed to the Court of Appeals. Or, in some limited cases, parties can ask to bypass this step and go straight up to the court of appeals. (This is what happened with the partisan gerrymandering case).
Regardless of the path, all constitutional challenges usually end up at the same place: the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The North Carolina Supreme Court Protects Our Democracy
For years in North Carolina, Republicans in the legislature took every step they could think of to disenfranchise voters, and particularly Black voters, in an attempt to cheat themselves into more power. They passed a Voter ID law which the courts ultimately said targeted Black voters with “surgical precision”, they drew racist maps the courts declared “the largest racial gerrymander” ever seen by a court. With every legal set back they come back with a new step to limit people’s voices so that they can further entrench their own power and policy preferences.
The main thing standing in the way of Republican destruction of our democracy is the North Carolina Supreme Court. In addition to the partisan gerrymandering opinion issued earlier this year, the Court has several other key democracy cases in front of it concerning the constitutionality of Photo Voter ID, the question of whether a gerrymandered body can pass constitutional amendments, and questions about voting rights restoration for previously convicted felons.
And you should know, that Republicans on the right, and even members of the judiciary themselves, have made clear that if Republicans gain a majority in November they will not hesitate to undo and overturn all the democracy-promoting opinions issued by the current court.
We can’t have a repeat of 2020
In 2020, Cheri Beasley, then serving as the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, lost her reelection campaign by 401 votes out of more than 5 million votes cast.
This was an extremely close loss, but what’s worse is that Beasley would have won if every Democrat who cast a ballot supported her. Even though Joe Biden received 74,483 fewer votes than Donald Trump in the presidential race, he received 11,258 more votes for president than Beasley did in her contest.
Some voters skip races when they don’t know the candidates. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but for this race it had devastating consequences. The Democrats still control the North Carolina Supreme Court, but they now hold the majority by just a single vote.
Help elect Inman and Ervin
A statewide race for the Supreme Court is estimated to cost up to $2.5 Million! Contribute today to Justice Ervin or Judge Inman’s campaign if you can.
Judge Inman’s website has information about volunteering for her campaign. You can sign up for updates from the Ervin campaign as well.
Spread the word
Most people don’t know much about state supreme court races. Feel free to post this post on social media and please tell your friends and neighbors so we can raise the profile of these important races.