RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper appointed an appellate judge and longtime voting rights attorney to fill a vacancy on the North Carolina Supreme Court created when one of two Democratic justices stepped down early.
Allison Riggs, a registered Democrat, will replace outgoing Justice Michael Morgan, who resigned last week from the panel where Republicans hold a 5-2 majority. Riggs currently serves on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, a position Cooper appointed her to last December to fill another vacancy.
Riggs, 42, said she is proud to become the youngest woman to serve on the state’s highest court and promised to do all she can to make sure the state’s legal system delivers on its promise of equal justice for all.
“I’m going to continue my humble and diligent approach to my role as a jurist,” she said. “In polarized times, interpreting and applying the law without fear or favor and with a steady hand is more important than ever.”
Riggs will serve out the remainder of Morgan’s term through the end of next year. Her seat on the high court will appear on the ballot in 2024, and she told reporters Monday that she plans to run next year for a full eight-year term. Jefferson Griffin, a Republican serving on the state Court of Appeals, has already announced his candidacy for that seat.
Before she became a judge, Riggs had been heavily involved for more than a decade in litigation to block Republican redistricting maps and laws requiring photo identification to cast ballots. She worked closely with Justice Anita Earls, the only other Democrat on the state’s highest court, at the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice and took over as co-leader of the organization after Earls was elected to the court in 2018.
Riggs argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in a Texas redistricting case in 2018 and a North Carolina redistricting case in 2019. She received her law degree and two other degrees from the University of Florida.
Cooper said Riggs has “the qualifications, the experience, the integrity and the temperament” needed to succeed in her new role.
He also appointed Carolyn Thompson, a deputy commissioner on the state Industrial Commission and a previous district court and superior court judge, to fill Riggs’s seat on the state Court of Appeals.
“These judges are the right people for these jobs,” Cooper said. “When it comes to matters of great consequence for people’s everyday lives, they have the smart legal minds to do the analysis, consider each case on its own merits and make decisions that follow the law.”
Riggs assured reporters Monday that her history of butting heads with Republican legislators in her previous role as an attorney would not interfere with her judicial responsibilities. She is viewed as a further-left pick than Morgan, her predecessor, who occasionally joined Republicans on opinions about crime issues.
Morgan has declined to outline his future plans but said he still has a desire to make a difference in the Tar Heel state. Had he run for reelection next year, the 67-year-old Democrat from New Bern would have hit the mandatory retirement age for judges halfway through the new term.
He opted instead to give Cooper time to appoint a new justice before the state Supreme Court holds its next oral arguments on Tuesday.