Why Judges Matter

Under the North Carolina Constitution, the Judicial Branch is an equal branch of state government with the Legislative and Executive branches. An unbiased judiciary is the check on the other branches of government and a cornerstone to a healthy democracy.

The Judicial Branch interprets what our laws mean and makes decisions about those laws and who breaks them. It consists of lower courts where trials are held, evidence is presented and disputes are settled, as well as appellate courts, where judges review the work of the trial courts to ensure they have not made errors of law or legal procedure.

Appellate judges determine what broadly-written state laws actually mean in specific situations, whether or not they are constitutional, and to whom they apply.

Within the 15-member Court of Appeals, each case is decided by a panel of three judges, while the seven-member Supreme Court of North Carolina decides cases as one body. Juries are not involved in appellate courts, so citizens only have input through their selection of the judges they feel are the most qualified, fair and impartial. And they can only do that one way: by voting in elections.

How do judges’ decisions affect me if I am not in Court?

Within the Judicial Branch, appellate judges make decisions that potentially affect North Carolina residents and businesses whether they are directly involved in the cases that are before the Court or not.

For example, in 2019 it fell to the Supreme Court of North Carolina to determine how much a Cumberland County couple who lived in the path of a planned highway project outside Fayetteville would be compensated by taxpayers for their property. The case hinged on the Court’s interpretation of a state law known as the Map Act in assigning a value to property that would eventually be paved over. 

The Supreme Court’s decision would not only affect that one couple, though; it would affect all homeowners whose property was subject to the Map Act or could become subject to it in the future. That’s because the Supreme Court is the state’s highest court, and there is no further appeal from its decisions on matters of state law. Its determinations set statewide legal precedent, meaning the logic in Supreme Court opinions will be applied to issues North Carolinians haven’t even contemplated yet.

It is therefore critical that North Carolinians elect jurists who are knowledgeable of the law and will use sound, impartial reasoning in rendering their decisions. 

Why vote based on the endorsements of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice?

North Carolinians often lack reliable information on which to base their selection of appellate judicial candidates. With 2,250 lawyer members throughout North Carolina and a vision focused on protecting people, preventing injustice and promoting fairness, the NCAJ can be relied upon for nonpartisan, meticulously vetted endorsements through its PAC. Members of NCAJ are in a unique position to evaluate the quality and fairness of judges because as lawyers their job is to represent North Carolina’s citizens before those judges.

The N.C. Judicial System

Appellate Courts

Courts where judges review the work of the trial courts to ensure they have not made errors of law or legal procedure. Includes NC Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court.

These courts don’t involve juries because they are making decisions based on the law, not determinations of fact.

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NC Supreme Court

Made up of 7 judges who decide cases as one body. The Supreme Court is the state’s highest court, and there is no further appeal from its decisions on matters of state law.

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NC Court of Appeals

Made up of 15 judges. Cases are decided by 3-judge panels.

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Trial Courts

Lower courts where trials are held, evidence is presented and disputes are settled.

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Usual entry point to judicial system for most North Carolinians