RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina Supreme Court's only registered Republican called out the remaining six Democratic justices in a speech that marked an unusual open critique of the state's highest court from within.
In a campaign address last weekend to Republicans, Associate Justice Paul Newby compared his Democratic colleagues to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. To GOP activists, she symbolizes the Democratic Party's leftward shift.
"Imagine seven 'AOCs' on the state Supreme Court," Newby told the Republican crowd Saturday, referring to the congresswoman's initials.
"Well, folks, we got six," he said to laughs. "It's six to one."
WRAL-TV reported on the comments after receiving a recording. Newby political consultant Paul Shumaker told the station the justice was simply giving "an example of ideological differences," without a direct reference to anyone.
"Candidates pointing out the ideological difference between themselves and others is not new to the political process of either party," Shumaker wrote in a text message. He said Newby was on a family vacation this week.
Newby's comments referred to — but did not name — new Associate Justice Anita Earls, who was elected to the court last year. Earls previously led the Southern Coalition for Social Justice when she helped sue over legislative and congressional districts and challenged a voter ID law.
"I lose sleep at night thinking, what would it be like if we had no one to hold accountable those that want to cause social change through our judicial branch," Newby said. Referring to campaign spending, he added: "In 2018, the left put $1.5 million to get their 'AOC' person on the court." Reached by WRAL, Earls declined to comment.
Democrats took the court's majority following the 2016 elections. Newby is running next year for the chief justice's seat currently held by Cheri Beasley, who is seeking reelection as the state's first African American female chief justice . Newby's current seat and another seat are also up for election.
Newby, the longest-serving current justice, was upset when Cooper appointed Beasley to succeed Chief Justice Mark Martin when Martin stepped down earlier this year. Newby said the governor refused to honor what he said is tradition to naming the senior associate justice as chief justice, and accused Cooper of deciding to place "raw partisan politics over a nonpartisan judiciary."