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How Does the North Carolina Supreme Court Work?

The North Carolina Supreme Court has the highest authority in the state. Regarded as one of the oldest courts in the US, the North Carolina Supreme Court does not determine the facts of any case, nor does it hold jury trials. Instead, the appellate court determines whether there are errors in other courts’ judicial processes or interpretations. Since the Supreme Court is the highest legal authority in North Carolina, it is impossible to appeal the court’s decisions as pertains to the state laws. Where federal regulations are concerned, the United States Supreme Court may hear an appeal from the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has jurisdiction over matters, such as:

  • North Carolina Utilities Commission decisions or final orders
  • Motions for temporary stays
  • Writs of habeas corpus
  • Writs of mandamus
  • Motions for appropriate relief
  • Death stays
  • Writs of supersedeas
  • Direct appeals from the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission

The North Carolina Supreme Court may issue a writ of certiorari to permit the review of judgments, orders, and decisions of lower courts such as the Court of Appeals and trial courts in death penalty cases. The writ also permits the review of the charges or judgments of trial courts.

In cases where a lower court does not issue an order in time and thereby denies litigants the possibility of appeal or enforcement of the order, the Supreme Court may issue a writ of mandamus. The writ is considered legal action against a public official.

The North Carolina Supreme Court hears oral arguments, which are not the same as hearings or trials. In a verbal argument, attorneys representing the parties may present or highlight the parts of a case that are considered necessary. Additionally, North Carolina Supreme Court justices may ask attorneys questions during an oral argument.

After the court hears oral arguments, the panel of justices, consisting of the North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice and Associate Justices, take votes on the cases. Typically, the North Carolina Supreme Court publishes its rulings and opinions within six months.

In North Carolina, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments between January and May and September and December of each year. Oral arguments typically last 30 minutes; however, attorneys do not need to exhaust the allotted time. Attorneys who conclude oral arguments before 30 minutes are over may notify the court of the conclusion.

Except a justice is recused or disqualified, all serving judges must vote on cases brought before the court. A North Carolina Supreme Court justice may be recused or disqualified from voting on a matter if the:

  • The court rules that the Justice is not partial.
  • The Justice is a witness in the case.
  • The Justice is a close relative of the defendant.
  • The Justice has prior personal knowledge of the parties involved in a case.
  • The Justice has a financial or personal interest in the outcome of a case.
  • Participants in the case, such as attorneys, defendants, or witnesses, are the Justice’s relatives.

If, for any of the reasons stated above or any other criteria given by law, a North Carolina Supreme Court justice cannot be impartial in a case, the judge may grant personal recusal. Other parties, who are participants in a case, may also file a motion for recusal. However, such persons must be able to prove that there are grounds for recusal objectively.

Currently, seven justices serve on the Supreme Court - one Chief Justice and six associate justices. However, according to state laws, the court may have up to eight associate justices. The Chief Justice is also the head of the North Carolina judicial branch. The Supreme Court justices run in a competitive and partisan election, and each judge serves an eight-year term. To qualify to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court, candidates must be attorneys under 72 years old.

Whenever there is a vacancy on the North Carolina Supreme Court, the State Governor may appoint a justice to fill the vacancy. However, to serve a full term on the Supreme Court, the assigned judge must participate in an election 60 days after filling the vacancy. According to state laws, a Supreme Court Justice’s term begins on January 1 after an election. North Carolina Supreme Court justices must retire by the age of 72.

On its website, the North Carolina Supreme Court provides access to oral argument calendars, orders, court rules, dockets, and a library of the Supreme Court’s opinions. Through the resources provided, interested parties may conduct searches for North Carolina Supreme Court cases using the parties’ names, the case title, or case number. Similarly, interested parties may search the North Carolina Supreme Court orders using the case title or docket number. Additional resources, such as forms and court rules, are also provided.

The North Carolina Supreme Court implemented the Code of Judicial Conduct. The code contains seven (7) canons, which guide North Carolina judges’ behaviors. Judges must:

  • Have integrity
  • Avoid impropriety
  • Perform duties diligently and impartially.
  • Participate in historical or cultural activities
  • Regulate extra-judicial activities
  • File reports of compensation received for extra-judicial activities
  • Engage in political activity that is consistent with a public official’s status

The North Carolina Supreme Court hears oral arguments sessions at the court building in Raleigh. Interested parties may visit the Justice Building at:

2 East Morgan Street

Raleigh, NC 27601–1428

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