by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In a court with six registered Democrats and a single Republican, you might expect a lot of 6-1 rulings. The latest batch of opinions from the N.C. Supreme Court reveals a far more interesting pattern.
Of 17 opinions handed down today, nine were unanimous. A tenth involved unanimous agreement on the outcome, though Justice Anita Earls wrote a concurring opinion to address a legal issue unaddressed in Justice Sam Ervin IV’s majority opinion.
In the other seven cases, only one (State v. Terrell) involved the Democratic justices lining up against lone Republican Justice Paul Newby. Newby dissented most often overall (five times), but Terrell was the only case in which he dissented alone. Ervin and Justice Michael Morgan each joined one of Newby’s two other dissenting opinions. Newby joined separate dissents written by Ervin and Morgan in two other cases.
In addition to her concurrence, Earls wrote two lone dissents. She dissented from both majority opinions written by Morgan.
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Justice Robin Hudson were in the majority in all 17 cases, Beasley writing one majority opinion and Hudson, two. Judge Mark Davis was in the majority in all 14 cases in which he participated. He wrote four majority opinions, three of them unanimous. Ervin (three majority opinions) and Morgan (two) voted with the majority in 15 of 17 cases. Earls also sided with the majority 15 times, including the case that produced the concurrence. Newby voted with the majority in 12 of 17 cases.
The State v. Grady case produced the longest set of opinions. In that 4-2 case, Earls took more than 67 pages to explain why the majority voted to modify and affirm the Appeals Court ruling striking down satellite-based monitoring for a New Hanover County defendant on Fourth Amendment grounds. Newby took 40 pages explaining why he and Morgan disagreed.