RALEIGH — Current general counsel for the N.C. Administration of Courts Trey Allen spoke with North State Journal on his run for the state Supreme Court and why he believes his background and philosophy make him the right choice for the seat.
Allen said his interest in law and politics has been with him as long as he can remember, all the way back to his time growing up in Robeson County when, on his own initiative, he began to read extensively about the nation’s founders.
“As a young man, I became fascinated by the founders, including, among others, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison,” Allen said. “That sense of history and that appreciation, even at such a young age, appreciation for their achievement, has always been something that’s stuck with me.”
This focus on the founding, and being true to its original intent, followed him to UNC Pembroke, where he took classes in political science, and then to UNC Chapel Hill Law School.
“I grew up in a very patriotic household,” Allen said on why he holds the Constitution and American system in such high regard. “My dad is a 30-year veteran of the Air Force, much of that in the Air Force Reserves. I grew up being taught, ‘Love God and love your country.’”
Allen said that after law school, he decided to join the Marine Corps, partly because of his family’s military history and patriotism. But also because he wanted a challenge.
“When I was in law school, I realized that if I was going to do any military service, that this was probably my last opportunity to do that, and I joined the Marine Corps because the Marine Corps promised to challenge me. I was looking for a challenge, and I will say, the Marine Corps lived up to that promise.”
Allen spent time in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he was also deployed as a judge advocate to Okinawa, Japan.
That’s when a man who would be very influential in his professional career offered him his next big opportunity — to be a state Supreme Court clerk back in his home state. That man was Paul Newby, now the state Supreme Court’s chief justice.
“He interviewed me by phone from Okinawa, and I was fortunate enough to be offered a position to clerk for him,” Allen said. “It was a great education in how our state’s highest court functions. It was also an education in how a conservative judge goes about trying to remain faithful to the original understanding of the Constitution and to the text and legislative intent of the laws when deciding cases.”
And this conservative philosophy, which he holds in common with Newby, has remained with him.
“I would say broadly that I’m a constitutional conservative, and when it comes to interpreting the Constitution — the federal Constitution or the state Constitution — what that means is that when confronting an issue, you try to follow the original understanding of what the constitutional provision at issue meant,” Allen said. “You’re guided by the provision as it was understood when ratified.”
After clerking for Newby, Allen spent almost seven years in private practice in Raleigh, working in education law and arguing constitutional cases in front of both federal and state courts. He then joined the faculty at UNC Chapel Hill School of Government, where he spent another seven years teaching on local government and giving legal advice to officials across the state. UNC Chapel Hill honored Allen as Coates Distinguished Term Associate Professor in recognition of his teaching and scholarship.
“The work of a school-of-government professor has some real parallels with appellate court work,” Allen said. “The faculty there provide guidance to government officials around the state on the legal subjects on which they specialize. And so when you get those requests for guidance, you examine the law, you try to the best of your ability to give an unbiased take on what it requires. And that’s what a good judge does.”
Allen is on leave from UNC Chapel Hill after Newby offered him another job — as general counsel for the Administration of Courts (AOC).
“As the general counsel for our state’s courts system, I head an office of 10 lawyers,” Allen said, describing his new position. “We do an array of things. But one of the most important things that we do is to provide legal guidance to judges and other court officials around the state. The Administrative Office of the Courts, of course, tries to implement the chief justice’s vision. One of the things that we’ve been working on since I started in January is to help reopen the court system; that’s been a major priority for the chief justice, so it’s been a major priority for the Administrative Office of the Courts.”
Allen said in working to reopen the courts, his office is looking at many angles, including to what degree the use of remote proceedings is violating constitutional rights, like the right to confront the witnesses against you.
On his ongoing professional relationship with Newby, and whether he has been supportive of Allen’s decision to run, Allen said, “So, I regard him as a mentor and a friend, and he has encouraged me over the years to think about running for the court.”
Whether it was this encouragement from the chief justice or his lifelong passion for the law, Allen is running for the state’s highest court and says he is seeing momentum out on the trail.
“It’s a big state, and we have lots of Republican organizations, and I’ve been going to as many events as I can as part of my campaign,” Allen said. “For someone who’s just gotten into politics, I’ve been humbled and amazed by the number of people who have expressed interest in my campaign, and a willingness to be supportive.”
He said Republicans are waking up to the fact that the legal landscape is increasingly being determined by the courts, rather than the democratic process.
“People should support me if they want a Supreme Court that’s going to stick to its role of applying and not making the law if they want a Supreme Court that is going to be bound by the Constitution as originally understood and if they want a Supreme Court that will not function like legislator in black robes but instead when interpreting statutes will do their best to follow the intent of the legislature,” he said.
Allen also wanted people to know that “faith and family are core to who I am.” He said one of the reasons that he and his wife, Teryn, who was his high school sweetheart, homeschool their five children is to pass on their Christian faith and values to them.