More shakeups are coming to the North Carolina court system, with another judge from the N.C. Court of Appeals, Lucy Inman, announcing plans to run for the N.C. Supreme Court in 2020.
“Judges protect everyone’s rights by applying the law consistently and respecting our state and federal constitutions,” Inman said in a press release. “Judges don’t make the law. We are duty bound to follow it.”
Unlike in the federal court system, judges in North Carolina are elected. Earlier this month, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin announced he will retire in February to become the dean of a law school in Virginia. That triggered a new election in 2020 for the chief justice seat, which previously wasn’t supposed to open up until 2022.
Paul Newby, who will be the longest-serving Supreme Court justice after Martin retires, previously announced that he plans to seek the chief justice seat in 2020. Both Newby and Martin are Republicans; the rest of the seven-member court are Democrats. Newby was scheduled to be up for re-election to his associate justice seat in 2020. But if he instead runs for chief justice, that would open up the competition for his current seat.
A Republican judge on the state Court of Appeals, Phil Berger Jr., announced Monday that he wants to run for that seat in 2020 if Newby is running for the chief justice seat. Berger is the son of N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County.
And on Wednesday Inman, a Democrat on the Court of Appeals, announced she also plans to run for Newby’s associate justice seat. That could mean an election between her and Berger in 2020. They’re the only candidates to announce so far. Berger has been on the Court of Appeals since 2017, and Inman since 2015.
In a press release announcing her candidacy, Inman said she was endorsed by a number of former Supreme Court justices when she ran for the Court of Appeals in 2014, including former Chief Justice James Exum, for whom she worked as a clerk after graduating law school.
“Chief Justice Exum and all the justices instilled in me the importance of every word in every decision,” she said. “Win or lose, everyone who appears in court deserves careful attention to each case. That’s how judges show respect. The responsibility of following the law and applying it fairly is a high calling that I am humbled to pursue.”
Inman is a member of the Daniels family that owned The News & Observer from 1894 to 1995.
Her entrance into the race means more potential confusion at the Court of Appeals. In 2017, after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office, the Republican-led General Assembly passed a new law restricting Cooper’s ability to appoint judges to fill vacancies on the court, by reducing the size of the court from 15 to 12 members gradually as judges retire or leave for other reasons, like winning an election to higher office.
The first reduction in size will happen next month, when Republican judge Robert Hunter reaches the Court of Appeals’ mandatory retirement age of 72. At that point, the political makeup of the court will change from an 8-7 Republican majority to an even 7-7 split. Depending on how the 2020 elections go, a victory for either Berger or Inman would help their respective party’s influence on the Supreme Court while also changing the political makeup of the Court of Appeals, since Cooper won’t be able to nominate a replacement unless other judges also leave the court before then.
Although judges usually lead fairly low-profile lives, Inman was in the news last November when her 20-year-old son William Josephus Warden was arrested. Police accused him of burning a cross in a Cary park and later making violent threats to a synagogue in Cary, Sha’arei Shalom, which belongs to a branch of Messianic Judaism.
In a statement from the attorney representing her family, The News & Observer previously reported, Inman said her son suffers from mental illness and his alleged actions are not representative of her and her husband’s beliefs.
“Our family is inclusive and respectful of all people,” the statement said. “Sadly, we, like many families, are dealing in this case with a mental illness, which we recognize and for which we have sought and continue to seek treatment. ... As deeply concerned parents, we apologize profusely to the Jewish community and to all who have been impacted. And we are treating this situation with utmost seriousness.”