RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The 2022 midterm election has led to Democrats losing their bid to retain control of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Wins at the ballot box for Richard Dietz and Trey Allen will now give Republicans the majority.
“I think that there will be a change. Not because we have more Republican Supreme Court justices, but because we will have ideologically conservative Supreme Court justices,” said Ben Finholt, the director of Just Sentencing Project.
The initiative is part of Duke Law’s Wilson Center for Science and Justice and addresses extreme sentencing and racial disparities in North Carolina.
“I think defense attorneys will have to be very careful and very zealous about guarding their clients’ rights under the federal constitution and the state constitution because we may have a state supreme court that is less likely to protect those rights on their own,” said Finholt
Finholt points to two cases this year that may give us a hint. State of NC v Riley Conner and State of NC v James Kelliher.
In his dissent Chief Justice and Republican Paul Newby accused the democratic majority, who ruled on each case, of judicial activism. Newby said the majority interpreted the North Carolina constitution differently than the federal constitution. He also said the majority placed limits on juvenile sentencing beyond what the legislature has done.
Finholt is also waiting to see what the new makeup of the court means for minority offenders.
“I am hopeful that those disparate outcomes are something our new court does not ignore, but I think that’s an area of concern… is that a more ideologically conservative court will not be as interested in the downstream impacts on our communities,” he said.
While North Carolina’s Black population represents 22 percent of the state’s population, they also account for 50 percent of NC’s prison population.
How the high court rules may also have an effect on our prisons as the vacancy rate for corrections staff remains at 35 to 40 percent.
“You’ve got not enough people not making enough money taking care of too many people already and if that gets worse that could be a real problem for the state,” said Finholt.