News | December 6, 2016

Reports raise prospect of last-minute power grab to reshape N.C. courts as McCrory exits

North Carolina's Supreme Court.

With North Carolina’s governor election settled, many in Raleigh are hoping for a smooth transition.

Governor McCrory has called a special legislative session for Tuesday, Dec. 13 to consider providing much needed relief to the many North Carolina communities hurt by Hurricane Matthew and by the wildfires in the western part of the state. But past special sessions have led watchdogs to be worried. It was in just such a special session that North Carolina’s divisive HB2 bill was passed within 24 hours of its introduction.

Now the talk in the state capital is about a possible effort to manipulate the state supreme court to expand the number of associate justices from 7 to 9, allowing McCrory, who is a Republican, to establish Republican control of the court. A Democrat won election to the seven-judge panel in November, shifting the balance of power to 4-3 in Democrats favor. If the legislature were to add two seats and McCrory were to appoint Republicans, the balance would shift to 5-4 Republican.

The court has been composed of seven members for more than 80 years. Analysis of the number of cases heard in the state Supreme Court shows no increase in workload, and the state court system has not requested additional justices, calling into question the necessity of appointing additional ones.

“Our state judicial system and highest court should not be manipulated for partisan advantage,” said Derb Carter, Director of SELC’s North Carolina offices. “The legislature should respect the will of the voters who have duly elected and constituted a Supreme Court that has served the state well.”

As news of this potential move has spread, North Carolinians from both sides of the aisle have called this tactic an undemocratic power grab that would undermine the public’s faith in the judicial system. A new website on the subject,, provides a petition residents can sign opposing hasty changes to the state Supreme Court and encourages residents to contact their state legislators, urging lawmakers to reject any motions to advance these changes during the special legislative session Tuesday.