Recap: Samuel J. Ervin IV Interview
Retired Justice Robert Orr interviewed Justice Samuel J. Ervin IV on Sept. 16 about the upcoming North Carolina Supreme Court elections. Justice Ervin is running for re-election to his seat as associate justice on the state Supreme Court. The topics discussed in the interview ranged from Ervin’s career and judicial philosophy to the present state of North Carolina’s judiciary. (Watch the interview here.)
Although Ervin is a registered Democrat, he does not use his political party to draw voters in his campaign. He urged people voting in judicial elections to disregard partisan affiliation and to instead let a candidate’s fairness and impartiality influence their decision.
“I certainly try very hard myself to examine each case individually and to decide each case based upon what I think the law and the facts call for,” Ervin said. “At some point, you just have to look at a particular judge’s record and decide whether you think that judge is doing what he or she says.”
In his interview, Ervin expressed the belief that judicial elections should be non-partisan. North Carolina Supreme Court elections have been partisan since 2016, following 12 years in which non-partisan elections were the standard. In a partisan election, the political party of each candidate is disclosed on the ballot.
“It’s always seemed to me that electing judges in non-partisan elections was more reflective of what judges actually do,” Ervin said. “[Non-partisan elections] put a premium on what your own qualifications were [and] what your philosophy was.”
Ervin’s opponent in the general election is Trey Allen, a Republican. Allen did not respond to the invitation to be interviewed. Allen is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a law clerk for Chief Justice Paul Newby.
The two seats up for election on the state Supreme Court are both Democrat, meaning a Republican victory in only one election would result in the Democrats losing their 4-3 court majority. Ervin noted that partisanship of justices in the state Supreme Court is not as prominent as it seems, although it has increased in recent times.
“A significant number of decisions in both [the North Carolina Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court] are still unanimous now,” Ervin said. “I think, to some extent, there may be an overstatement of the ‘us against them’ approach to analyzing the court.”
The North Carolina Advocates for Justice, an association of plaintiffs’ attorneys, and the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys, have both endorsed Ervin’s candidacy for re-election.
“I hope that the [reason why] people on opposite sides of the table in a court room have chosen to suggest that I ought to be re-elected is that both of them feel like they’ve gotten a fair shake from me as a judge over the period of time that I’ve been on the Court of Appeals and on the Supreme Court,” Ervin said. “I think they have confidence in my fairness and in my impartiality.”
Ervin’s family has been associated with the legal system for four generations. His great-grandfather, grandfather, father and brother have all been lawyers. Ervin’s grandfather, Samuel James Ervin Jr., was a U.S. senator famous for his role in the Senate Watergate Committee.
Ervin was born and raised in Morganton, North Carolina. His family calls him “Jim,” after his middle name. He graduated first from Davidson College with a bachelor’s degree in history, and then earned his law degree from Harvard Law School.
Ervin served on the North Carolina Utilities Commission from 1997 to 2007. Ervin was elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2008 and served there until 2014. Ervin has been a justice of the state Supreme Court since 2014.