Trey Allen, a lawyer with absolutely no judicial experience at all, won the Republican Primary for North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice on May 17 – and he could end up being the one who flips the court to Republicans.
Allen’s easy win over appellate court judge April Wood and Victoria Prince might not have been possible without the backing of Chief Justice Paul Newby – or support from state Senate Leader Phil Berger and his son, Supreme Court Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr.
Despite being the chief justice of the state Supreme Court and, at least theoretically, being above politics, Newby has a history of hyper-partisanship.
According to News & Observer opinion writer Ned Barnett, actions such as Newby’s shows that “North Carolina’s courts are…getting tainted by the same partisanship that is threatening public faith in the federal courts.”
Possibly Newby’s most well-known instance of partisanship occurred when he took the unprecedented step of intervening in the long-standing Leandro case by replacing Democratic Superior Court Judge David Lee with Judge Michael Robinson, a fellow Republican who attended law school with Newby.
In response to the move, Barnett wrote, “As chief justice, Newby is free to use his power of appointment. But his moves rewarding Republican insiders have cost the court system expertise, continuity and public confidence. Fostering partisanship at the state level is adding to an already growing national crisis in the courts.”
Allen’s primary victory means he will face off against Democratic incumbent Associate Justice Sam J. Ervin IV in the November general election. Ervin is seeking a second eight-year term on the bench of the state Supreme Court.
Democrats currently have a 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court, but the seats held by Ervin and fellow Democrat Robin Hudson are the only ones up in November, WRAL reported.
Hudson is not running for reelection because she would reach the mandatory retirement age of 72 in 2024, according to WRAL.
Republican Richard Dietz and Democrat Lucy Inman — both members of the Court of Appeals — will face off in November for Hudson’s seat.
If Republicans win either contest then they will hold a 4-3 advantage on the court. If they win both, they’ll have a 5-2 majority – an almost unfathomable outcome considering Democrats held a 6-1 majority ahead of the 2020 elections.