by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
On Thursday, Sept. 10, the Federalist Society hosted a forum with the candidates for the three contested seats this year in the North Carolina Supreme Court. JLF’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Donna Martinez, moderated the event.
The event began with introductions from all the candidates followed by questions for the candidates for Seat Two, Appeals Court Judges Lucy Inman (D) and Phil Berger, Jr. (R). Moderator Donna Martinez began with the question, “Section 35 of the Declaration of Rights in the North Carolina Constitution reads this way, ‘A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty.’ Candidates, what does that statement mean to you?”
Inman stated that the statement was a proclamation of stability, which she defined as respecting precedent and always referring to the US and state constitutions. Berger, Jr. echoed that he believes it means a constant referral to our constitution, and additionally added that constitutional interpretation should be grounded in liberty and God-given rights.
After Martinez presented questions to Inman and Berger, Jr., she directed more questions to Justice Mark Davis (D) and state Senator Tamara Barringer (R) – both running for Seat Four. Martinez asked them, “Is it appropriate for a judge to try to right societal injustices, and, if you are elected, would you do that?” Mark Davis held that a judge’s role is to apply the law as it is written and that personal feeling about a case should not impact the way they decide the case. Tamara Barringer stated that she was a textualist and believes the law should be interpreted as written.
Following the questions for Seat Four, Martinez turned the questions to the candidates for Chief Justice. That candidates are sitting Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D) and Sr. Associate Justice Paul Newby (R). Cheri Beasley was appointed Chief Justice by Dem. Gov. Roy Cooper in 2019 following a vacancy and Paul Newby is the longest serving justice on the court. When the conversation between Beasley and Newby turned to the way the courts have been affected by COVID-19, the justices had disagreements. Reporter A.P. Dillon wrote about them in North State Journal:
Beasley touted that she was the first chief justice in the nation to implement COVID-related emergency directives and the use of virtual hearings. She did not get into the delays in jury trials, which are still paused until at least Oct. 1. Beasley said that district courts were “being allowed to create their own plans” for how to resume jury trials.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” said Newby in response to Beasley’s blanket COVID orders. He added that district courts have had pandemic plans in place since 2011.
“The federal courts have continued with jury trials. Some of our neighboring states have continued with jury trials. Why is that?” asked Newby.
Beasley pivoted to the Supreme Court’s existing case backlog and said, “we just don’t have the funding” to clear it.
Watch the full forum above, and read Dillon’s coverage of the virtual event here.