Chief Justice Paul Newby’s tenure on the North Carolina Supreme Court has been marred by accusations of politicization and a disregard for judicial impartiality.
A recent editorial by Capitol Broadcasting Company, owner of WRAL-TV in Raleigh, ripped into Newby for “manipulat[ing] our state’s judicial system to settle” a personal political feud.
His recent decisions, including the demotion of Appeals Court Judge Donna Stroud and the appointment of Beth Freshwater Smith as a special Superior Court Judge, have raised concerns about the integrity of the state’s judicial system.
Newby’s demotion of Stroud, the senior judge on the appeals court and its chief judge when she was reelected in 2020, was widely seen as an act of retribution for her rulings in cases that went against the NCGOP’s interests, at least according to Stroud herself. Newby’s replacement of Stroud with Chris Dillon, a junior Appeals Court judge who was until recently the chair of the state Judicial Standards Commission, further solidified the perception that the court was being used to settle political scores.
In another secretive move, Newby named Appeals Court Judge Jeffrey Carpenter to replace Dillon as the leader of the Judicial Standards Commission.
The appointment of Beth Freshwater Smith as a special Superior Court Judge was another controversial move by Newby. Smith, a former law clerk to Newby, had no prior experience as a judge. She also lost a primary to Stroud in 2020 despite support from Senate leader Phil Berger (who recommended Smith for this special position) and endorsements from Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger Jr. and Appeals Court Judge Jeffrey Carpenter. Smith’s appointment is just another way to pack the courts with judges who are more sympathetic to Newby and the NCGOP’s agenda.
Newby, in addition to moving judges around the court like chess pieces to “checkmate” the rule of law, is also accused of being personally behind the effort to investigate fellow Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls who, as the only Black woman on the court, spoke out against racial and gender biases within the state court system.
Through his actions, Newby has betrayed the public trust and turned the courts into a tool for partisan gain. The timing and nature of his decisions raise serious questions about his impartiality. Newby has not done anything to hide the fact that it appears he is using his position to reward his allies and punish his enemies.
If Newby is allowed to continue down this path, the North Carolina judicial system will be irreparably damaged. The courts must be a place where all people can expect to be treated fairly, regardless of their political affiliation. Newby’s actions have undermined public trust in the judiciary, and it is time for him to be held accountable before it’s too late – if it’s not already.