Filing period announced for special election to fill N.C. Appeals Court seat

The State Board of Elections on Tuesday set Aug. 1-8 as the filing period for candidates seeking to fill a seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals being vacated by retiring Judge John Martin.

The N.C. Constitution allows only licensed attorneys to serve as judges. The filing fee for N.C. Appeals Court candidates is $1,331. Judicial candidates run without party labels.

The statewide vote to fill Martin’s seat will be held in conjunction with North Carolina’s normal general election on Nov. 4, regardless of how many candidates file, with the leading vote-getter winning the nonpartisan race outright.

This month Martin, who served on the appellate court from 1984-88 and again from 1993 until now, announced his retirement, effective Aug. 1. The candidate selected by voters to replace Martin will fill out the remainder of his current eight-year term, which ends in 2016.

A similar special election to the N.C. Appeals Court in 2010 attracted 13 candidates when Judge James Wynn vacated his seat to join the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. That contest employed North Carolina’s first ever use of “instant runoff voting” for a statewide race, but the system was repealed by lawmakers and replaced with having the winner decided by a plurality of votes.

While an election will be held this fall to fill Martin’s seat, Judge Linda McGee has been designated to take over as chief judge of the Court of Appeals, a mantle currently held by Martin.

In addition to the special election to fill Martin’s seat, there will be three other N.C. Court of Appeals contests on the ballot this fall.

Established in 1967, the Court of Appeals is North Carolina’s intermediate appellate court, with its 15 judges hearing cases in panels of three.

The special filing period implemented for the Martin seat will also apply to two special elections to fill superior court seats being vacated by Judge William Constangy (Mecklenburg County) and Judge Robert Johnson (Alamance County).

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McGee named next chief judge of N.C. Appeals Court

Judge Linda McGee has been designated as the next chief judge of the N.C. Court of Appeals following the retirement of current Chief Judge John Martin on Aug. 1.

McGee has served on the Court of Appeals since 1995 when she was appointed by former Gov. Jim Hunt and has been elected to that seat three times, most recently in 2012.

A native of McDowell County, McGee graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law. She practiced law with di Santi, Watson & McGee in Boone for 17 years and served as the first executive director of the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers from 1973 to 1978.

“You have served ably as a judge of the Court of Appeals, and I am confident that as chief judge you will continue the tradition of integrity and excellence established by your predecessors,” N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker wrote in a letter to McGee announcing the decision.

While McGee will succeed Martin in the position of chief judge, there is the separate matter of holding an election to fill Martin’s seat on the Appeals Court this November.

Established in 1967, the Court of Appeals is North Carolina’s intermediate appellate court, with its 15 judges hearing cases in panels of three. Members of the court are elected statewide as nonpartisan candidates and serve eight-year terms.

A 2012 interview with McGee can be heard here, courtesy of

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Poll: Hagan builds lead over Tillis in U.S. Senate contest

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s edge over Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate contest has grown by 5 percentage points since last month, according to new numbers from Public Policy Polling (PPP).

The latest survey finds Hagan with a seven-point advantage over Tillis, 41-34 percent, while Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh garners 8 percent and 16 percent of voters are undecided.

When Haugh’s supporters are asked to choose between Hagan and Tillis, Hagan’s lead slips to just three points, 42-39 percent, with 19 percent unsure.

Neither Hagan nor Tillis are all that popular among North Carolina voters. Hagan’s approval rating is a net negative 10 percent, while Tillis’ is a net negative 23 percent.

However, Tillis is still less well known among voters than Hagan, with 29 percent unsure of their opinion of the Republican, compared to just 10 percent who are undecided in their views on Hagan. The gap could signal that a key component of both campaigns will be to define Tillis in the minds of voters between now and Election Day.

The relative unpopularity of the candidates may be tied to the institutions they are members of. The U.S. Congress is near rock-bottom in terms of approval ratings in most polls, while the new survey from PPP shows the N.C. General Assembly’s favorability at just 19 percent.

With the legislative session dragging on into mid-summer, the poll finds 50 percent of voters think it’s inappropriate for Tillis to attend fundraisers for his campaign even as lawmakers are still haggling over state budget adjustments.

A key component of that budget debate centers on raising salaries for North Carolina teachers. But the survey shows that a majority of voters – 54 percent – say the legislature is not making a “good faith effort” to follow through on the pledge to increase educator pay.

While the Hagan campaign will almost certainly try to make the contest a referendum on the Republican-controlled state legislature, the Tillis camp will likely try to make the campaign about national Democratic politics and President Barack Obama, who has a net negative 12 percent rating among North Carolina voters.

“The big question is whether the momentum toward Hagan over the last few months will stick once the legislature has gone home,” pollster Tom Jensen writes in his analysis of the survey results. “Last year Hagan saw her lead spike upwards during the summer, before crashing back to earth in the wake of the negative Obamacare fallout. But for now things have definitely trended in her direction.”

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Poll: Americans divided on their opinion of U.S. Supreme Court

A new poll from Gallup finds Americans increasingly polarized when it comes to their attitudes toward the nation’s highest court.

According to the survey, 47 percent of Americans approve of the job being done by the U.S. Supreme Court while 46 percent disapprove.

The poll shows approval among Republicans on the upswing, with 51 percent having a favorable view of the court, up from just 30 percent last year. Meanwhile, Democrats have a diminishing view of the court, with 44 percent disapproving of the justices’ work, down from 58 percent in 2013.

That shift in partisan attitudes toward the court comes after a series of rulings this year celebrated by conservatives and criticized by liberals, such as placing limits on buffer zones around abortion clinics and allowing closely held companies to refuse to include certain types of contraception in their employee healthcare plans.

Looking over Gallup’s 14-year tracking of public attitudes toward the court, Republican support reached a high of 80 percent in the wake of the Bush v. Gore decision that effectively ended the 2000 presidential election in favor of Republican George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, Democratic support for the Supreme Court rose to 68 percent after a decision upholding the Affordable Care Act in 2012.

“Controversial decisions since 2012 have resulted in dramatic changes in views of the court among Americans of different party affiliations,” Gallup’s Rebecca Riffkin writes in her analysis of the poll. “However, this term, nearly two-thirds of the court’s decisions were unanimous, in contrast to the 5-4 split in the two high-profile cases at the end. Americans’ current views more closely reflect the court’s own ideological divisions in these two recent decisions, rather than its bipartisan unanimity.”


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Walker defeats Berger for Republican nod in 6th congressional district runoff

Photo: Mark Walker campaign

Mark Walker won the Republican primary runoff in North Carolina’s 6th congressional district on Tuesday, soundly defeating Phil Berger, Jr., a district attorney and son of powerful N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, 60-40 percent in a low-turnout election.

The July runoff result was a reversal from the initial May primary when Berger led a crowded field of nine GOP candidates with 34 percent of the vote, followed by Walker at 25 percent. However, since Berger was unable to reach the 40 percent threshold needed to win the nomination outright, the race extended into a head-to-head matchup between those top two vote-getters.

Some 31,000 ballots were cast in the runoff contest, compared to the 44,000 votes seen in the May primary.

Once the race’s outcome became clear on Tuesday night, Berger conceded and quickly backed Walker, a Baptist minister, for the Republican-leaning seat currently held by retiring 15-term Rep. Howard Coble, who had endorsed Berger in the runoff. Democrat Laura Fjeld awaits Walker in the general election.

In other runoff races on Tuesday, Josh Brannon defeated Gardenia Henley 66-34 percent to claim the Democratic nomination in the 5th congressional district and the chance to take on incumbent Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx.

In the Democratic runoff for N.C. House District 23, Shelly Willingham appeared to edge out Rusty Holderness for the win, 52-48 percent. Willingham is virtually guaranteed to succeed retiring Rep. Joe Tolson given that no Republican candidate bothered to run in the heavily Democratic district.

And in Wake County, John Walter Bryant easily won the Republican runoff for district attorney over Jeff Cruden, 64-36 percent, and will face Democrat Lorrin Freeman in the November election.

Overall voter turnout in Tuesday’s runoff elections was an anemic 6 percent, down from the weak 16 percent seen in the May 6 primary, but higher than any “second primary” in North Carolina over the past decade, according to the State Board of Elections.

Full election results, including those in 15 other local contests around the state, can be seen here.

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