Gov. Roy Cooper has announced that he will appoint progressive attorney Allison Riggs to the North Carolina Court of Appeal. Riggs will complete the term of Richard Dietz, who won election to the North Carolina Supreme Court last November as part of a Republican sweep of statewide judicial elections.
Riggs has made a career of litigating against North Carolina election laws while working at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ):
Riggs has spent much of her career fighting election laws approved by the Republican-led General Assembly. She has represented left-of-center activist group Common Cause in its ongoing legal challenge against state legislative and congressional election maps. Riggs has represented plaintiffs challenging North Carolina’s voter identification laws.
Rigg’s tenure on the appeals court will likely be short. Under Article IV, Section 19 of the North Carolina Constitution, Riggs will only serve until “the next election for members of the General Assembly” in November of 2024. She will then be out of a job unless she can win reelection. As seen in the last two election cycles, that is increasingly unlikely.
Her tenure will also likely be unhappy. When she starts her term in January, 11 of the court’s 15 judges will be Republicans. The Court of Appeals sits in panels of three, so she will usually be in the minority on contentious cases.
Even when she finds herself in the majority, she will have to rule narrowly to have any hope of seeing it survive a challenge to the North Carolina Supreme Court with its new 5-2 Republican majority.
So why would she take the job?
Three reasons come to mind. First, it is an honor to be named a judge, even if the circumstances around the appointment are not ideal.
More practically, the same changes in the composition of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals that will make her judicial career frustrating would also make her litigation less likely to succeed if she stayed with her current job. Whoever takes Riggs’ place at the SCSJ will lose more often than win.
In addition, Riggs may have an ambition to serve as a federal judge. Padding her resume with a one-or-two-year stint in a state court of appeals would give her a competitive advantage over other attorneys seeking judicial appointments from the Biden administration.
After a year or two of issuing minority reports, she will be more than ready for a change.
(Cover photo is a still from a WRAL pool video.)