Retiring Democratic Justice Mike Morgan said Thursday that he would resign in the first week of September rather than serve out the remaining 16 months of his term on North Carolina's Supreme Court, a development that could give his party a better chance to defend this crucial seat next year. We may see Morgan's name on the 2024 ballot anyway, though, as his announcement came two months after he unexpectedly expressed interest in running for governor.
First, though, it's up to the state's current chief executive, termed-limited Democrat Roy Cooper, to appoint a new justice to succeed Morgan on the seven-member body. Cooper's choice does not need to be confirmed by the GOP-dominated legislature, and they'll be able to run for a full eight-year term as an incumbent.
The News & Observer's Lars Dolder mentions four state Court of Appeals judges―John Arrowood, Allegra Collins, Toby Hampson, and Allison Riggs―as possible picks. Dolder also speculates that former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who lost reelection to the court by just 401 votes in 2020 and was the party's unsuccessful 2022 nominee for U.S. Senate against Republican Ted Budd, could also be considered.
Democrats will want the eventual appointee to be able to quickly organize a strong statewide campaign because the party needs to hold this seat in November of 2024 as part of a multi-cycle plan that represents their only realistic path toward rolling back the GOP's iron grip on state politics. Republicans last year flipped two Supreme Court seats to turn what had been a 4-3 Democratic edge into a 5-2 GOP majority, and Democrats have little room for error if they're to regain control in the next several years. To take a 4-3 majority, Democrats would need to win four of the next five races, which include Morgan’s seat in 2024, fellow Democratic Justice Anita Earls in 2026, and three Republican-held seats in 2028.
It's also critical that Democrats prevail in next year's race to succeed Cooper in order to stop Republican legislators from adding two seats to the court for a GOP governor to fill, which they’ve been contemplating for years. A Democratic governor could also fill any other vacancies that arise, including in 2027 when Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby hits the mandatory retirement age of 72 (Newby’s seat will be up in 2028 regardless).
For most of the year it looked all-but-certain that Attorney General Josh Stein would be the party's nominee for governor, but Morgan himself said two months ago he was also thinking about waging his own campaign for the top job. Morgan, who would be North Carolina's first Black chief executive, wouldn't tell Dolder if his early departure means that he’s about to run.
"I don't want to allow my focus to be so distracted by anything personally about what my plans may be that I take my focus away from making sure I leave the court in the best situation," said the outgoing justice. "So I'm not fully prepared to talk about what I shall be doing, but soon after I leave the court I can more directly focus on myself." The Tar Heel State's candidate filing deadline is Dec. 15, so we'll know what Morgan's doing within a few months.
Everyone always talks about redistricting, but what is it like to actually do it? Oregon political consultant Kari Chisholm joins us on this week's episode of The Downballot to discuss his experience as member of Portland's new Independent District Commission, a panel of citizens tasked with creating the city's first-ever map for its city council. Kari explains why Portland wanted to switch from at-large elections to a district-based system; how new multi-member districts could boost diversity on the council; and the commission's surprisingly effective efforts to divide the city into four equal districts while heeding community input.