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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: North Carolina's judicial elections are crucial for reproductive rights

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Midterm elections will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 8. It will be one of the most pivotal elections of our generation for reproductive justice.

Races on the ballot in North Carolina this election include one U.S. Senate seat, 14 U.S. House seats, several state offices including the General Assembly, Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, local judges and prosecutors and many county offices.

This year’s elections are incredibly important for abortion rights, as they are now left up to the states after the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Although all races are important this season, one race in particular plays a key role in the future of N.C. abortion rights, even though it tends to fly under the radar for voters.

It is time to pay attention to the North Carolina Supreme Court elections.

The U.S. Supreme Court receives a lot of attention across the country — as it should, it’s extremely important— but little attention is often paid to state Supreme Courts, which influence the interpretation of state laws, including laws regarding abortion access.

The North Carolina Supreme Court is the state’s highest appellate court and consists of six associate justices and one chief justice. The political composition of the Court heading into this election is three Republicans and Four Democrats.

Two North Carolina Supreme Court justice seats are up for partisan election this season.  Two newcomers, Lucy N. Inman (D) and Richard Dietz (R), are running for Seat 3, while incumbent Sam Ervin IV (D) is staving off a Seat 5 challenge from Trey Allen (R). The main function of the North Carolina Supreme Court is to interpret the law in questions that have arisen from lower courts.

If questions concerning abortion arise from lower courts, the North Carolina Supreme Court has the ability to decide the legality of that abortion. This means that the election of Supreme Court justices plays a key role in state abortion rights.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has the ability to interpret our state constitution’s laws, which directly influence policy in North Carolina. It is our state Supreme Court that has the final say in interpreting North Carolina’s constitution, rather than the U.S. Supreme Court. Our Supreme Court can even extend our rights further than the U.S. Supreme Court, as the nation’s highest court establishes only the minimum extent of our rights. We can still be guaranteed more protection from our state Supreme Court, but only if we take our concerns to the polls in November.

The midterm elections are extremely important for voter turnout, as these races have the ability to alter abortion rights in the states. The problem is, young people are less likely to vote. Young people spearhead many other forms of political activism such as rallies, mass protests and social media political engagement.

But when looking at the 2020 presidential election, only 50 percent of those aged 19-29 voted, compared to 66.8 percent as the national average for voter turnout overall. This turnout is not due to lack of interest, as we see so many forms of political activism led by young people. 

According to “Making Young Voters,” written by John Holbein and D. Sunshine Hillygus, talking to The New York Times, “the number of young people who express an interest in elections (76 percent), care who is president (74 percent), have interest in public affairs (85 percent), and intend to vote (83 percent) is especially high.” 

This suggests that our generation has the power and passion for political change — we just have to take that to the ballot box. Voting sends a direct message to those in power about what rights we demand from them. Whether it be voting rights, LGBTQ rights, or reproductive rights, we have the ability to push for them.

Our passion must be taken to the polls, because our reproductive freedom is on the line in 2022. 


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