Cooper courts controversy naming Riggs new justice

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, right, appoints State Court of Appeals Judge Allison Riggs, left, to the North Carolina Supreme Court to fill a vacancy, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper defied convention once again in naming a Supreme Court Justice, elevating Court of Appeals judge Allison Riggs to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Riggs, whose only professional experience prior to being named to the Court of Appeals was working as a litigator with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, will be the youngest female justice in state history.

Riggs will fill the vacancy created by Justice Michael Morgan’s resignation earlier this month. Morgan has opened talked of a run for governor in 2024.

“The need for fair-minded, even-handed, honest, experienced judges is more important than ever as our society and our courts wrestle with many critical issues,” Cooper said in a statement Monday. “I am grateful for the willingness of Judge Riggs to serve our state’s judicial system in this new role.

Riggs was the least-tenured member of the Court of Appeals after being named to the appellate court on Dec. 15, 2022.

According to her professional biography, Riggs held a variety of positions at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) including Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel for Voting Rights. She was a civil rights litigator and community lawyer who served as lead counsel in numerous voting rights cases. She earned her Bachelor’s and Law Degrees from the University of Florida.

Riggs is now reunited with her longtime boss at the SCSJ, Anita Earls, who was elected to the N.C. Supreme Court in 2018. Riggs took over for Earls following that successful campaign.

The naming of Riggs to both a Court of Appeals and Supreme Court seat in the span of nine months passed over at least two other Democratic judges currently on the Court of Appeals: Allegra Collins and John Arrowood, the first openly gay judge on the appellate court. Both were elected in 2018.

In 2019, Cooper similarly passed over more experienced candidates when given the opportunity to select a new Chief Justice of the court.

He elevated Cheri Beasley to the post, bypassing then-Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, as well as Associate Justice Robin Hudson, a longer-tenured Democrat than Beasley.

Beasley would go on to lose to Newby in 2020. Riggs will face voters for the first time in November 2024.

Republican Jefferson Griffin, who was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2020, entered the Supreme Court race in late 2022 and set a state record in his mid-year fundraising report, raising more than $400,000 in six months and over half a million since joining the 2024 contest.

In a subsequent announcement, Cooper named Carolyn Thompson to the seat Riggs is vacating on the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals seat will also be contested in November 2024.

Thompson is currently a Deputy Commissioner on the North Carolina Industrial Commission and previously served as both a District and Superior Court Judge in District 9.

She is an ordained minister and has served as a mentor and volunteer for teen and truancy courts. Thompson received her Bachelor’s Degree from Hampton University and her Juris Doctor from North Carolina Central School of Law.