- Associated Press - Monday, March 11, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper added a sixth Democrat to the seven-member state Supreme Court on Monday, elevating a current Court of Appeals judge to a vacancy created when Cooper recently named Cheri Beasley the chief justice.

Cooper, also a Democrat, announced he’s appointing Judge Mark Davis as an associate justice. Davis will begin serving next month at least through 2020, and says he will campaign for a full term. Davis fills Beasley’s old seat, which she held for over six years until she succeeded Chief Justice Mark Martin on March 1.

Davis will “continue to serve the people of North Carolina with great distinction, and I appreciate his willingness to take on this crucial role,” Cooper said while presenting Davis at an Executive Mansion news conference.

Martin’s surprise resignation to become dean of the Regent University law school in Virginia set in motion some chair shuffling within North Carolina’s two appeals courts, which Cooper is empowered by state law to orchestrate. Cooper now also gets to pick Davis‘ successor on the 15-member Court of Appeals, which usually meets in three-judge panels to hear cases.

Davis‘ appointment emphasizes the recent dramatic change in the partisan composition of the Supreme Court, which has ruled this decade in politically charged decisions involving redistricting and Republican laws that eroded Cooper’s powers. In some states, judicial races are nonpartisan. North Carolina candidates for nearly all judicial offices now run in partisan races, identified by political party.



Registered Republicans held a majority on North Carolina’s high court for nearly 20 years before Democrats took a 4-3 seat advantage with the November 2016 election. Democrats picked up another seat last November, leaving Martin and Associate Justice Paul Newby as the only Republicans. Now Davis‘ appointment gives Democrats a 6-1 seat advantage.

While Cooper had no obligation to keep two Republicans on the court, GOP Senate leader Phil Berger still criticized the governor for picking another Democrat. Berger said in a release Cooper’s that previous calls for a nonpartisan judiciary and balanced state government were just “empty rhetoric. Gov. Cooper is the hyper-partisan he has long condemned.” Cooper’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Three of the court’s seven seats will now be on the November 2020 statewide ballot because of Cooper’s two appointments. The winners will be elected to eight-year terms. The seat belonging to Newby already was up for re-election next year. Newby already has announced he will run instead for chief justice, as has Beasley.

Newby publicly criticized Cooper for elevating Beasley to chief justice, saying the governor placed “raw partisan politics over a non-partisan judiciary” because he argued tradition directed the position should have gone to him as the longest-serving associate justice. Cooper said Beasley, the first African-American woman leading the state courts, was the right person at the right time.

Davis, a North Carolina native and former state government attorney, was appointed to the Court of Appeals in December 2012 during the last days of the administration of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, for whom Davis served as general counsel. Davis filled the Court of Appeals seat held previously by Beasley, whom Perdue had weeks before moved up to the Supreme Court.

“This is truly the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, and I feel like I’ve been preparing for this for my entire professional career,” Davis said during the news conference. He added that it’s the court’s job to ensure “every case is decided fairly and impartially” on the facts of the case and the law, “and nothing else.”

In a brief interview, Davis confirmed that he believes he is the first Jewish jurist on the North Carolina Supreme Court - a distinction of which he’s proud. He called it an honor for the state’s Jewish community.

In addition to Davis‘ vacancy, Cooper will get to fill another Court of Appeals within weeks, since Judge Bob Hunter meets the age-mandated retirement at the end of the month.

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