2016 North Carolina judicial election

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One justice of the seven-member North Carolina Supreme Court and five judges of the 15-member North Carolina Court of Appeals were elected by North Carolina voters on November 8, 2016, concurrently with other state elections. Terms for seats on each court are eight years.

Elections for seats on both courts were technically nonpartisan, but under a bill passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015, House Bill 8, the party affiliations of Court of Appeals candidates were printed on the ballot. Court of Appeals candidates of all party affiliations would still run in one primary under the law, while the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to the general election.[1] Primary elections would have been held on March 15, 2016, for seats with more than two candidates, but in the end, only two candidates filed for each Court of Appeals seat.[2]

Supreme Court (Edmunds seat)[edit]

The seat held by Robert H. Edmunds, Jr. was on the 2016 ballot. Under current state law, Edmunds would have to relinquish his seat in 2021 if he was re-elected in 2016, because he would reach mandatory retirement age.

A 2015 change in state law was set to make Edmunds the first sitting justice who had the option of running in a retention election rather than running against other candidates. Edmunds chose that option, which would have meant that the state's voters would only be able to vote "for" or "against" Edmunds in the November election.[3][4] If a majority of voters voted "against," the Governor would appoint a new justice to serve until the next general election. Critics cast this as an attempt by Republicans in the legislature to maintain the 4-3 Republican majority on the Court. Edmunds is a Republican, as is the current governor, who would appoint any replacement.[5] Attorney Sabra Faires and two voters filed a lawsuit, claiming the new election method violated the North Carolina Constitution and was not an election at all, but a referendum. Faires said she wanted to run for the seat.[6] A three-judge panel found in favor of Faires and the two voters, and the State Board of Elections established a new candidate filing period of March 16–25. If more than two candidates filed for the seat, there would be a primary election on June 7.[7]

Edmunds and Faires both filed to run for the seat on March 16. Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael R. Morgan then filed on March 21, and was joined later by attorney Daniel Robertson, setting up a primary.[8]

The state Supreme Court later split 3-3 (with Edmunds recusing himself) on the constitutionality of the retention election, leaving the lower court ruling intact.[9]

In the June 7 primary, Edmunds finished first with approximately 48% of the vote, and Morgan finished second with approximately 34.3% of the vote. Faires and Robertson trailed with approximately 12% and 5.6% of the vote, respectively, and were thus eliminated from the general election.[10]

Morgan defeated Edmunds in the general election, garnering more than 54 percent of the vote.[11] Morgan's victory gave the Supreme Court a Democratic majority for the first time since the 1998 elections.[12]

General election polling[edit]

Poll source Date(s)
administered
Sample
size
Margin of
error
Bob
Edmunds
Mike
Morgan
Undecided
Public Policy Polling August 5–7, 2016 830 ± 3.4% 21% 21% 58%
Public Policy Polling June 20-21, 2016 947 ± 3.2% 28% 24% 48%

Court of Appeals (Dietz seat)[edit]

The seat held by Richard Dietz, who was appointed to the Court in 2014, was on the 2016 ballot.

Dietz, a Republican, ran for a full term.[13] Also running was Wake County District Court Judge Vince Rozier, a Democrat.[14]

In the general election, Dietz defeated Rozier, approximately 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.[11]

Court of Appeals (Geer seat)[edit]

Judge Martha Geer announced on March 16, 2016, that she would resign to return to private practice. Consequently, the seat was on the November 2016 ballot. Because of the timing of Geer's resignation, there would be no primary election.[15] In the interim, Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Chief District Court Judge Wendy Enochs to fill the seat.[16]

Hunter Murphy, a Republican who ran for a Court of Appeals seat in 2014, declared his candidacy on March 17, 2016.[17] Murphy is a trial attorney in Waynesville and was endorsed by retired North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robert (Bob) Orr, the North Carolina Troopers Association and the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police.

Wake County District Court Judge Margaret Eagles, a Democrat, was also a candidate for the seat, and was endorsed by Judge Geer, former Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, and the NC Police Benevolent Association.[18][19][20]

Forsyth County-based attorney Donald R. Buie, not affiliated with any party, was also a candidate for this seat.[21]

In the general election, Murphy defeated Eagles, approximately 48.7 percent to 45.6 percent. Buie received 5.7 percent of the vote.[11]

Court of Appeals (Hunter seat)[edit]

The seat held by Robert N. Hunter, Jr. was on the 2016 ballot. Under current state law, Hunter would have to relinquish his seat in 2019 if he was re-elected in 2016, because he will reach mandatory retirement age.

Hunter, a Republican, ran for re-election. Also running for the seat was former Wake County Superior Court Judge Abraham Jones, a Democrat.[13]

In the general election, Hunter defeated Jones, approximately 54.4 percent to 45.6 percent.[11]

Court of Appeals (Stephens seat)[edit]

The seat held by Linda Stephens was on the 2016 ballot. A Democrat, she ran for re-election, and was endorsed by former Chief Judges of the Court of Appeals John C. Martin, Sidney S. Eagles, Jr., and Gerald Arnold.[22]

Under current state law, Stephens would have to relinquish her seat in 2022 if she was re-elected in 2016, because she will reach mandatory retirement age.

Also running for the seat was former Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger, Jr., a Republican.[23]

In the general election, Berger defeated Stephens, approximately 50.25 percent to 49.75 percent.[11]

Court of Appeals (Zachary seat)[edit]

The seat held by Valerie Zachary was on the 2016 ballot. She was appointed to the seat in 2015 to replace retiring Judge Sanford Steelman. Zachary, a Republican, ran for a full term.

Also running for the seat was Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Rickye McKoy-Mitchell. Judge McKoy-Mitchell has served as an assistant district attorney for Mecklenburg County, a senior trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an attorney advisor for the Social Security Administration, and as a staff attorney for the Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont. McKoy-Mitchell received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In the general election, Zachary defeated McKoy-Mitchell, approximately 53.8 percent to 46.2 percent.[11]

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