You won’t see federal court races on the ballot, because those seats are appointed. But it’s worth knowing the difference between the two to understand what your local judges do.
Federal vs. State Courts
There are two main differences between the state and federal courts. One is the type of case heard, the other is scale. The most basic difference is that state courts handle violations of state and local laws, whereas federal courts handle federal laws and constitutional issues.
The vast majority of crimes are set out in state law and are handled in local state courts. State courts handle far more cases than federal and therefore there are far more state judges than federal ones.
While federal court judges are appointed, they often have experience from an elected seat on the bench. For example, Catherine Eagles is a federal district court judge in the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina. She is a former elected Guilford County Superior Court Judge. So consider your local races as a way to have a say in who qualifies to be appointed to those federal judgeships.
Guilford is weird that it has two superior court courthouses, one in Greensboro and one in High Point. That’s a rarity — most jurisdictions across the country have only one courthouse in the county seat.
So, what judicial races will we see on the ballot?
There are seats up at the North Carolina Supreme Court and North Carolina Court of Appeals, which will be statewide elections.
Let’s start with the state Supreme Court, the state’s highest court, where Democrats currently hold a 4-3 majority, but the court is led by Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican.
There are two seats on the ballot, which will effectively decide which party holds the balance of power over the next term. Both seats are currently held by Democrats. If Republicans win either seat, the majority will switch.
Democrat Lucy Inman faces Republican Richard Dietz for Seat 3, currently held by Democrat Robin Hudson, who is retiring. Both Inman and Dietz are currently judges for the N.C. Court of Appeals.
Incumbent Democrat Sam Ervin IV faces a challenge from Trey Allen for Seat 5. Allen is general counsel for the Administrative Office of the Court.
Additionally, voters will see four races for the N.C. Court of Appeals, the state’s second-highest court behind the supreme court.
Three of those races involve incumbents. Republican Chief Judge Donna Stroud is running for reelection against Democrat Brad Salmon, Republican Judge John Marsh Tyson faces Democrat Gale M. Adams, and Democrat Judge Darren Jackson faces Republican Michael Stading.
There’s also an open seat vacated by Judge Lucy Inman, who is running for the N.C. Supreme Court. In that race, Democrat Carolyn J. Thompson is running against Republican Julee Flood to replace Inman.
Judicial districts vary by the population of counties. (You can see a map of superior court districts here.)
In Guilford County, there are three local judicial seats up for election. All have candidates who are running unopposed:
Superior Court Judge District 18C Seat 1: Democrat Stuart Albright of Greensboro is unopposed.
District Court Judge District 18 Seat 1: Democrat Marc Tyrey of Stokesdale is unopposed.
District Court Judge District 18 Seat 2: Democrat Larry L. Archie of Greensboro is unopposed.
Forsyth County has six judgeships on the ballot — two superior and four district — all of which have candidates who are unopposed:
Superior Court Judge District 21 Seat 1: Republican Richard S. Gottlieb is unopposed.
Superior Court Judge District 2A Seat 2: Republican Aaron J. Berlin is unopposed.
District Court Judge District 21 Seat 1: Democrat Valene K. McMasters is unopposed.
District Court Judge District 21A Seat 2: Democrat Fred Adams is unopposed.
District Court Judge District 21A Seat 3: Republican Ted Kazakos is unopposed.
District Court Judge District 21A Seat 4: Democrat George Cleland is unopposed.
District attorney races:
In addition to judges, district attorneys are also part of the elected judicial landscape. In urban counties there is one DA who prosecutes the state court cases for that county. In less populated areas, the DA may represent multiple counties. For example, the District Attorney in the NC 33rd Prosecutorial District represents both Davie and Davidson counties. Similarly, there’s one DA for the 34th District, which encompasses Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes and Yadkin counties. (You can find a map of the state’s prosecutorial districts here.)
Republican Jim O’Neill has been the elected district attorney since 2009. He has made bids for state attorney general and in 2020 was the Republican nominee, losing a close race to incumbent Attorney General Josh Stein. Among his initiatives is the DATA program, which allows for deferred prosecution for people struggling with addiction in exchange for seeking intensive treatment.
Democrat Denise Hartsfield retired as a district court judge last year and entered the race for district attorney. She was first elected in 2002, becoming the county’s second Black female district court judge. Her tenure included work to establish the Forsyth County School-Justice Partnership, an initiative providing alternatives to the court system for juvenile misbehavior.
Incumbent Democrat Avery Crump defeated challenger Brenton J. Boyce in the May primary and is running unopposed in the November election.