Experts speculate on Michael Morgan as associate justice

Associate Justice Michael Rivers Morgan

Experts speculate on Michael Morgan as associate justice
January 12
04:15 2017



On Jan. 4, Wake Superior Court Judge Michael Rivers Morgan was sworn in as the newest associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Morgan will serve an eight-year term on the seven-member court, and as a Democrat, his addition now shifts the court to a 4-3 Democrat majority.

Supreme Court associate justices review court records generated during lower court proceedings to determine what errors in law, if any, occurred.

To most political observers, and many Republican leaders, the expectation now is that Justice Morgan, 60, the only African-American male who will be serving, will automatically side with his party on partisan issues that come before the court.

“Not true,” those who know, and have worked with Mike Morgan, say.  They laud him as a skilled legal practitioner who believes in fairness and impartiality, based on the merits of the case, not politics. It is this standard by which Morgan has built and maintained a stellar judicial career, they add, and by all accounts, he is expected to continue down this path while serving on the highest court in the state.

A quick look at one of Morgan’s most high profile cases, particularly in Wake County where he has presided for many years, gives some sense of his judgment.

In July 2016, Judge Morgan rejected a petition from Republican state lawmakers to either dismiss a challenge to the 2013 voter ID law that it violated the North Carolina Constitution, or send it to state three-judge panel for a decision. Instead, Morgan signed an order sending the case, which was different from its federal counterpart, to trial.

The question before Morgan was what are the eligibility requirements to vote in North Carolina, according to the state Constitution, and did the voter ID law violate the Constitution by requiring state-issued photo ID?

By effectively maintaining control of the case through trial, Judge Morgan indicated that he felt the constitutional challenge was valid. Conservatives disagreed, and tried to force Morgan off the case before trial started in September. The Civitas institute alleged that it was a conflict of interest because he was also running for the NC Supreme Court and would benefit from the exposure of such a high profile case. But Judge Morgan got the go-ahead from the NC Judicial Standards Commission, and refused to step down.

In a statement from the bench detailing why he wasn’t stepping down during a court hearing, Judge Morgan did not name his accusers, or even say that he was running for another office, as to not be accused of using the court to campaign for office. The trial was ultimately postponed until the federal appellate court’s decision, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was exhausted.

“As a dedicated community member with a strong commitment to his church, Mike understands what ordinary families are going through and he has a track record of administering fair and impartial justice,” President Obama said of Judge Morgan in October right before the election.

“He’s got the experience, temperament and judgment to serve the people of North Carolina on the [N.C.] Supreme Court.”

Colleague Orange Superior Court Judge Carl Fox called Justice Morgan “fair, hard working and a conscientious judge with a wealth of experience.” Others in North Carolina’s legal profession have lauded Morgan for his integrity and being “beyond reproach.”

“I have known Justice Morgan since he became a lawyer in North Carolina,” says attorney Irving Joyner, law professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, and chairman of the NC NAACP’s Legal Redress Committee. “He entered the legal profession with an outstanding reputation as a highly intelligent litigator and as a great person.”

“As a youth growing up in New Bern, he was properly seasoned as a tremendous human being by parents who expected and demanded the very best of conduct from him. Over the years, that reputation increased, and was shared by more and more people due to his outstanding legal advocacy which always evidenced an understanding of the law and the rights of people with whom he encountered,” Professor Joyner continued.

For the first time in North Carolina history, Justice Morgan’s addition to the state’s High Court, along with Associate Justice Cheri Beasley, who was elected in 2014,  means there are now two African-Americans serving there at the same time.

Even though Morgan is very much aware of the this historical significance, he said it was important in that his election added a valuable perspective to the court’s deliberations – that of an experienced black male – which was certainly needed.

“In every respect, he was professional and exhibited a calming and knowing demeanor,” attorney Joyner continued about his colleague Mike Morgan’s legal career. “This same calm and highly skilled demeanor followed and guided his work as a Superior Court Judge. His outstanding work was recognized by citizens as he was regularly re-elected to that position.”

Joyner ended by saying Justice Morgan was “the ideal person” to now join the North Carolina Supreme Court.

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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