[Editor’s note: As part of our ongoing effort to inform North Carolinians about the state judiciary, Policy Watch is publishing a series of Q&A’s over the coming weeks with the candidates seeking statewide judicial office this fall. Each of the 16 candidates (six who are contesting three Supreme Court seats and ten who are contesting five seats on the Court of Appeals) was asked the same seven questions by former PW Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter Melissa Boughton. Candidates were not given instructions about the length of their responses, which have been edited only for grammar.
Regrettably, unlike in 2018 when all candidates responded to our inquiries, some did not provide answers this year. To help inform voters in these cases, we will provide links to the unresponsive candidate’s website as well as available information about any public debates in which both candidates for the race in question have participated, or are expected to participate.]
Installment No. 2 in the series focuses on the race for the associate justice seat on the state Supreme Court currently held by incumbent Mark Davis. The court is made up of the chief and six associate justices. Each justice serves an eight-year term. The court is the last stop for litigation involving decisions of state law. Some recent high-profile cases taken up by the state Supreme Court have included redistricting disputes, separation of powers battles between the governor and the legislature, and the fight between the State Board of Education and the state Superintendent over who controls the state’s $10 billion public school system.
Supreme Court candidates:
Name: Mark Davis
Party affiliation: Democrat
What characteristics do you believe make a good judge, and why should North Carolinians vote for you?
I am honored to serve on the Supreme Court, and I am grateful every day for this opportunity. I believe that my background and judicial experience qualify me to continue serving on the NC Supreme Court. I have written over 500 opinions as an appellate judge. I am a strong believer in judicial independence and feel that judges should be totally free of any partisan or political influence. My bedrock principle as a judge has always been to be fair and impartial in every case. My wife Marcia and I have been married for 28 years. She is a former elementary school teacher and we have three children. We are both lifelong North Carolinians. I am very proud to be the first Jewish member in the history of the Supreme Court.
I spent 13 years as a litigation attorney at the Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice law firm. I then served as a Special Deputy Attorney General in the NC Dept. of Justice and then served two years as general counsel to the Governor. I served 6 years as a judge on the NC Court of Appeals and have been an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of NC since March 2019. In 2019, I authored a book on the NC Supreme Court, entitled “A Warren Court of Our Own.”
How will you balance being an independent judge and an elected official?
Like all elected officials in North Carolina, I took an oath to uphold the North Carolina Constitution and follow the law. I take that oath very seriously. My political beliefs have no bearing whatsoever on how I do my job as a judge. I would never decide a case or write an opinion based on political beliefs or personal bias.
How has COVID-19 changed your election campaigning if at all?
Obviously, in-person events are not possible during this time. I immediately cancelled my entire fundraising event schedule when Governor Cooper issued the stay-at-home order. I have spent a lot more time on the telephone and on Zoom calls with supporters and voters.
Do you believe systemic racism permeates our criminal justice system? If so, how do you plan to dismantle it to ensure equal access to justice for all North Carolinians under the law?
I am troubled by the existence of any racial inequities in our criminal justice system. As judges, we lack the power to pass new laws. Instead our responsibility is to fairly decide the cases that come before us. In several recent cases, our Court has issued opinions making clear that no racial prejudice will be tolerated in our justice system. I am hopeful that the Racial Equity Task Force recently created by Governor [Roy] Cooper will result in significant improvements to our ability to ensure equal justice under the law. I also believe that judges would benefit from training on the subject of implicit bias.
How do you define injustice?
To me, injustice occurs in our legal system when the rights of a person or entity are not fully protected as required by our Constitution. As a judge, perhaps my most important duty is to make sure this does not occur.
To what extent do you believe that a judge should or should not defer to actions of a legislature?
Generally, judges are bound by their oath to apply the laws that are passed by the legislature. The only exception is when a law passed by the legislature violates the Constitution. In such cases, judges have a duty to strike down the law in order to uphold the Constitution.
What are the biggest changes you think North Carolina needs to make to its judicial system?
We must ensure that all persons have equal access to justice. It troubles me that indigent litigants often have trouble obtaining legal representation. I would like to see the General Assembly increase funding for such purposes. As noted above, it is also essential that we do everything possible to eradicate discrimination in our system of justice.
Name: Tamara Barringer
Party affiliation: Republican
Note: Barringer did not respond to multiple emails over a two-week period asking for her participation in the Policy Watch voter guide Q&A.
The two candidates participated in a joint appearance on for UNC-TV in late August that can be accessed by clicking here.