RALEIGH — N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Jefferson Griffin is no stranger to running a statewide campaign for office. After mounting his first campaign for the Court of Appeals in 2018 in which he narrowly lost, he ran again two years later and prevailed in the first of two consecutive statewide judicial sweeps for Republicans.
With one seat on the N.C. Supreme Court on the ballot in 2024, Griffin is the first and, so far, only declared candidate.
“I’ve been traveling pretty hard. We hit it pretty hard the first six months, going hammer down since December last year. Now, we’re resting and resetting a bit after the finance report deadline,” Griffin told North State Journal last week.
Griffin said his interest in joining the state Supreme Court comes after seeing and experiencing first-hand how impactful appellate courts can be.
“I’ve seen how impactful our appellate courts can be over the last four years, especially when we had a liberal Democrat majority and what they were willing to do with that majority from an activist standpoint,” said Griffin.
(Being) that close to it and watching from the Court of Appeals we have to be measured and determined to keep a conservative majority not only on our Court of Appeals, but especially the Supreme Court.”
Griffin said that his time spent on the appeals court will translate well to jumping to the Supreme Court.
“Around 90% of all appeals are resolved at the court of appeals level. Just the number of repetitions and the broad areas of law that we get to address have been very impactful for me, we’ve already written over 150 opinions since joining the court. The volume that we deal with is very high,” Griffin said his of his time on the court.
He added, “I’ve been able to show the people of North Carolina that I’m a constitutional conservative, that I believe in the rule of law. Probably 50% of our calendar at the court of appeals are criminal cases. So, areas of criminal justice where can clarify the law, make sure we are we’re doing our job as appellate judges, not retrying cases, making sure there no errors were made below.”
When asked about specific cases he’s been part of, Griffin cited election integrity issues and the Ace Speedway case that currently sits in front of the Supreme Court.
Court of Appeals judges sit in panels of three to hear cases. Griffin said he sat on a panel dealing with felon voter issues and wrote what he called a “lengthy dissent” in the case that ultimately was overturned by the Supreme Court earlier this year. He also wrote an opinion in the Ace Speedway case about race track’s owners challenging Gov. Roy Cooper and former N.C. Dept. Of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen’s orders during the coronavirus pandemic that closed the track.
“Issues like that, we deal with those at the Court of Appeals. I’ve seen how important they are and how impactful they can be at our court, at the Supreme Court and issues with individual liberty,” he said.
Griffin said his relationships with many of the current justices would help him hit the ground running if he wins election to the seat. He counts Chief Justice Paul Newby as a longtime supporter.
“The Chief Justice has been a good friend and mentor for a long time back from my days when I moved to Raleigh and was an assistant DA in Wake County,” he said.
He also shared two years on the Court of Appeals with Justice Richard Dietz and said he already had good relationships with Justices Trey Allen, Tamara Barringer and Phil Berger Jr., who he highlighted as sharing his background working previously as prosecutors.
In past election cycles Griffin has been taken off the campaign trail for his long-running military service. His wife, Kayte, has stepped in for him in candidate forums and appearances. At that time Griffin was in Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan with the Army National Guard. Despite the challenge of campaigning and serving, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love my military service. I think it’s an honor and a privilege to serve. It’s very rewarding,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect he’ll have to leave if elected to the Supreme Court.
“I anticipate we’ll be able to continue service there and in the judiciary,” he said.
Focusing back on the campaign side, he said he had respect for outgoing Justice Mike Morgan, who is eyeing a run for governor. Morgan said earlier this year he would not run for a second term on the Supreme Court, making the 2024 race an open seat for both parties.
No matter who he ends up running against, Griffin said philosophy of judicial restraint and being consistent is what he’s sharing with voters. He cited two U.S. Supreme Justices: Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch as those he aligns with for his approach.
“I’ve always been a fan of Clarence Thomas’s judicial philosophy. He’s always consistent. More recently, (Neil) Gorsuch is starting to develop a body of work. I respect his view of originalism. He is faithful to that philosophy even if in certain cases, it doesn’t yield the outcome he may want, right? But I think he is consistent, and that’s what we should be as judges, consistent in how we interpret the law,” Griffin said.