Four days before the N.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to take up a case involving N.C. election maps, a new issue has emerged. Republican legislative leaders are raising concerns about a Supreme Court clerk who could be affected directly by the case’s outcome.
In a document filed Friday with the state’s high court, lawyers for top GOP lawmakers question the involvement of Tim Longest in the case titled Harper v. Hall. Longest is the Democratic candidate in the N.C. House District 34 race. Longest also has worked as a law clerk for Senior Associate Justice Robin Hudson, a fellow Democrat.
Legislative leaders would seek Hudson’s recusal from the case if Longest has played any role in the case since becoming a state House candidate.
“It would be a clear conflict of interest for anyone in the judicial branch to have meaningful involvement in litigation over legislative district boundaries while, at the same time, running for legislative office,” according to the “motion for clarification” filed by attorney Phillip Strach. “Accordingly, Legislative Defendants presume Mr. Longest has been walled off from any activity in the remedial phase of this appeal.”
“However, Legislative Defendants have no way to ascertain whether this in fact occurred,” Strach added. “Accordingly, they respectfully request an assurance from Justice Hudson that Mr. Longest has been appropriately screened from any involvement in this matter. Alternatively, if this assurance cannot be made, Legislative Defendants move for Mr. Longest’s recusal from this matter.”
The state Supreme Court is scheduled on Oct. 4 to consider ongoing challenges of N.C. House and Senate district maps. The challenges will not affect maps used for this fall’s elections. The outcome of Harper v. Hall could determine whether lawmakers will redraw maps again for the 2024 election cycle.
Longest has clerked for Hudson since August 2020, according to Strach’s motion. Longest’s LinkedIn page still lists him as Hudson’s law clerk. The N.C. Judicial Branch’s communications office confirmed Friday afternoon that Longest continues to work for Hudson.
The Wake County Democratic Party appointed Longest on July 26 to run as the Democratic candidate in House District 34.
“Mr. Longest has been endorsed by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters PAC, … an endorsement Mr. Longest has advertised,” Strach wrote. “NCLCV is among the lead plaintiffs in this lawsuit and is appealing the Superior Court’s ruling concerning legislative districts.”
Longest’s district has changed during the legal fight tied to Harper v. Hall. “Thus, this Court’s Harper ruling directly impacts the configuration of HD-34, and its ultimately ruling on this appeal will again directly impact its configuration.”
“Legislative Defendants understand that law clerks on this Court generally end their employment in early fall, and they therefore did not understand that Mr. Longest would remain with the Court as of the resolution of this appeal,” Strach wrote. “Legislative Defendants, however, have recently discovered that Mr. Longest apparently remains employed as a law clerk for Justice Hudson even after having filed to run for office.”
“As a result, Mr. Longest will both campaign for HD-34 and serve on the Court that will decide the ultimate boundaries of HD-34, potentially for the remainder of the decade.”
Legislative defendants “have no way to know whether Mr. Longest is currently involved in this appeal,” Strach added. “Legislative Defendants at this time have assumed that this did not occur and that Mr. Longest has been appropriately screened off from this case. They file this motion
out of an abundance of caution in order to obtain assurance that such screening has occurred.”
“There can be no serious question that Mr. Longest cannot ethically be involved in this case,” Strach wrote.
“If Mr. Longest has not been screened from this case since filing to run for office, in addition to seeking his recusal, Legislative Defendants have little choice but to seek Justice Hudson’s recusal,” Strach wrote.
Plaintiffs filed their own paperwork Friday opposing Hudson’s recusal from the case.
“Legislative Defendants respectfully request that Justice Hudson take appropriate steps to disclose the facts relevant to the conflict of interest of Mr. Longest and take appropriate measures to cure any conflict that may have come into existence at any time,” the motion added.
Longest replaced incumbent Rep. Grier Martin as the Democratic nominee in House District 34. Martin resigned from office on July 8 to take a new job with the Pentagon.
Longest faces Republican Ashley Seshul and Libertarian Kat McDonald in the general election, The John Locke Foundation’s Civitas Partisan Index rates House District 34 as a “safe Democratic” seat.