RALEIGH, N.C. — When Republican Court of Appeals Judge Douglas McCullough approached Gov. Roy Cooper to propose the judge’s early retirement, Cooper jumped at the chance to replace McCullough with a Democrat who would in some part earn back LGBTQ North Carolinians’ favor. Fifteen minutes after McCullough announced his retirement publicly, Gov. Cooper appointed openly-gay former appeals court judge John Arrowood for the seat.
McCullough crossed party lines to offer the opportunity to Cooper, in spite of opposition from the Republican-controlled state legislature. Lawmakers recently passed legislation reducing the state Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12, justifying the cut by arguing that the court did not have enough cases to merit so many judges. Cooper vetoed the measure on April 22, and it was then that McCullough approached the governor.
“I didn’t want my legacy to be the elimination of the seat,” McCullough told an Associated Press journalist. “The statistical information that the legislature’s used is not the statistics that we have at the Court of Appeals … We’re a very, very busy court.”
Gov. Cooper’s motives may not have been a Democratic judicial advantage alone; the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Professor Eric Heberlig argues that it was a calculated move on the governor’s part, after the public outcry over the HB2 repeal “compromise” that left much of the anti-LGBTQ law in place.
“I suspect it crossed the mind of Gov. Cooper and his advisers that appointing Judge Arrowood would help to appease some in the gay rights movement who were unhappy with the HB2 compromise,” Heberlig said.
Arrowood served briefly on the Court of Appeal in 2007, appointed by Democratic Gov. Mike Easley. However, Arrowood lost elections for the seat in 2008 and 2014. Some critics say that Gov. Cooper has contradicted the will of the voters.