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Republicans retake control of North Carolina Supreme Court

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RALEIGH — Two Republicans running for seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court beat their Democratic opponents, flipping the partisan makeup of the high court in Republicans’ favor for the first time since 2016.

Republican Trey Allen, general counsel for the state court system, defeated sitting Democratic Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV for his seat. And Republican Court of Appeals Judge Richard Dietz defeated Democratic Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman.

Democrats held a slim 4-3 majority on the panel heading into this year. With two Democrat-held seats up for election, Republicans only needed to win one to retake control.

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Democrats have warned that Republican control of the judiciary could push state law to the right on a number of key issues, including abortion access, redistricting, voting and gun control. North Carolina is among a handful of states with intense judicial races, and high outside spending, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June to let states decide the legality of abortion.

The judicial elections come in the final months of a tumultuous two-year court term distinguished by several split decisions favoring the Democratic majority. These high-profile rulings, some involving redistricting, criminal justice and voter ID laws, have drawn criticism from both sides that the judiciary has become too politicized. Now, all four candidates are running on a similar platform: a vow to keep their personal politics from interfering with their rulings.

North Carolina introduced partisan state supreme court elections following the 2016 cycle after the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation to list the judicial candidates’ party affiliations on the ballot. Lawmakers introduced the bill shortly after Democrats gained a majority on the high court that November.

While Democrats have been able to quash many GOP bills in recent years, mainly with the threat or application of Cooper’s veto, that power now hangs in the balance as Republicans aim to pick up the few additional seats they need for a supermajority in the General Assembly.

Voters in 32 states are casting ballots this year in state supreme court contests, which have become spending targets for interest groups nationwide. North Carolina — one of the most closely watched states due to its historically close partisan divide — has drawn millions in outside spending for the judicial races since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June to let states decide the legality of abortion.

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