North Carolina Supreme Court


Current NC State Supreme Court Justices

NC State Supreme Court History

Past Supreme Court Justices


The Supreme Court, the highest court in North Carolina’s state judicial branch, has functioned as an appellate court since 1805. Prior to 1819, the court’s members also acted as trial judges, holding terms in the different counties.

The Supreme Court does not use juries and it makes no determinations of fact. Instead the court focuses on claims of error in legal procedures or in judicial interpretation of the law. It hears oral arguments on the written record of cases previously tried by the superior courts, district courts, and certain administrative agencies and commissions.

The only original case jurisdiction exercised by the N.C. Supreme Court involves the censure and removal of judges upon the non-binding recommendation of the Judicial Standards Commission. The NC Supreme Court hears all cases involving constitutional questions or in which there has been dissent among members of the
Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court may, at its discretion, review Court of Appeals decisions in cases of significant public interest or cases involving legal principles of major significance. Appeals of first-degree homicide convictions where the defendant has been sentenced to death go automatically to the Supreme Court for review. Automatic review is also available in Utilities Commission general rate cases. In all other cases, appeals of lower-court or administrative agency decisions must be made to the Court of Appeals.

The NC Supreme Court may, at its discretion, hear appeals directly from the trial courts in cases involving significant public interest, cases involving legal principles of major significance where delay would cause substantial harm or when the Court of Appeals docket is unusually full.

Since 1937, the NC Supreme Court has consisted of a chief justice and six associate justices. Prior to the reforms of the 1960s, the court’s membership varied from only three members (1818-1868; 1875-1889) to as many as five members (1868-1875; 1889-1937). The chief justice and the associate justices are elected by
the state’s voters, each for an eight-year term. If a vacancy occurs during a term, the governor appoints an interim justice to fill the vacancy until the next general election.

The NC Supreme Court sits to hear oral arguments in its courtroom in the Justice Building in Raleigh with the chief justice presiding. The senior ranking justice presides when the chief justice is absent. The court sits en banc with all members present to hear each case. Associate justices are seated alternately to the right or left of the chief justice according to their seniority in years of service on the court.

Administrative officers of the N.C. Supreme Court include the clerk, the librarian and the reporter, all of whom are appointed by the court and serve at its pleasure. The Appellate Division reporter prepares opinions of both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved