At the end of long night of close contests, Republican candidates appeared on the verge of pulling off a surprising clean sweep of statewide races for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. With an unknown number of mail-in ballots yet to be counted, however, at least one, and possibly others, appear too close to call.
The closest race was for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court where Associate Justice Paul Newby held a razor-thin lead of just a few thousand votes out of more than 5 million thus far counted over incumbent Cheri Beasley.
The seven–member court, on which Democrats have held a 6-1 advantage, will slide to a 4-3 Democratic majority if Newby’s margin holds and Republicans maintain two other leads in races for associate justice seats.
In one of those races, GOP challenger Tamara Barringer – a former Republican state senator from Wake County – appears to have defeated incumbent justice Mark Davis. In the other, Phil Berger, Jr., the son of state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, narrowly leads fellow Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman.
Meanwhile, Republicans also appear to have been successful in all five Court of Appeals contests with a victory by incumbent Chris Dillon, as well as newcomers April Wood, Fred Gore, Jeff Carpenter and Jefferson Griffin. Both Wood and Gore were victorious in races for open seats vacated by Democrats while Carpenter and Griffin defeated Democratic incumbents Reuben Young and Chris Brook, respectively. Dillon fended off challenger Gray Styers.
Democrats had enjoyed an 8-7 partisan advantage on the 15-member court, but yesterday’s results appear to have left them with just four members – though that could rise to five assuming Berger’s lead in the Supreme Court race holds and a Democrat is appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper to fill the slot he will vacate.
If Newby ultimately prevails over Beasley it will forestall what would have been a historic moment as Beasley is the first Black woman to lead the court and a victory would have marked the first time that a person of color has been elected the chief justice position. She previously served as an associate justice before being appointed by Gov. Cooper to lead the court in 2019 after the resignation of former chief Mark Martin.
Newby – an arch-conservative – was highly critical, and by all appearances highly resentful, of Cooper’s decision to elevate Beasley to the Chief Justice position over him when it became vacant. Newby cited his greater seniority on the court in expressing his disappointment with being passed over.
As is frequently the case with judicial races in North Carolina – especially during presidential election years in which the ballot is a crowded one – none of the contests generated much attention or news coverage in recent weeks and all appeared to be greatly influenced by the performance of candidates at the top of the ticket, with all winners registering 50% to 51% of the vote.
Ultimately, the final results appeared to validate the politically motivated decision of Republican lawmakers in recent years to change all judicial races from nonpartisan to partisan.