In this era rife with internecine conflict in state government, we shouldn’t forget a less publicized line in the sand. Our state constitution grants plenary appellate authority to the Supreme Court of North Carolina, ascribing no role to the General Assembly to modify that jurisdiction.
The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is set forth in Article IV, Section 12(1) of our state constitution:
(1) Supreme Court. The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction to review upon appeal any decision of the courts below, upon any matter of law or legal inference . . . .
The Court has not hesitated to exercise that jurisdiction even when a statute purports to limit it, as it reminded us last week.
In State v. Todd, a man convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon filed a Motion for Appropriate Relief (“MAR”) in the trial court, collaterally attacking his conviction on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied the motion, but a divided Court of Appeals reversed. The State appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis of the dissent.
Of course, in North Carolina a party who loses 2-1 in the Court of Appeals has a right to appeal based on the dissent. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-30(2). But that right is not absolute:
Decisions of the Court of Appeals upon review of motions for appropriate relief listed in G.S. 15A-1415(b) are final and not subject to further review in the Supreme Court by appeal, motion, certification, writ, or otherwise.
Could the legislature create an appeal right in one statute and take it away in another? Probably so–the General Assembly has the constitutional authority to create a “system of appeals,” N.C. Const. art. IV, § 12(6), and the constitution is silent on the right to appeal based on a dissent in the Court of Appeals. But Section 7A-28(a) goes further, purporting to limit the Supreme Court’s authority to review MAR decisions of the Court of Appeals at all.
That is a bridge too far. The Supreme Court made quick work of Section 7A-28(a) in Todd, reiterating:
[W]e maintain the authority granted to us by the state constitution and recognize that it is beyond question that a statute cannot restrict this Court’s constitutional authority under Article IV, Section 12, Clause 1 of the Constitution of North Carolina to exercise jurisdiction to review upon appeal any decision of the courts below.
The Court was gentle, never expressly stating that Section 7A-28(a) is unconstitutional.
Let’s just say the plain language of the statute is inconsistent with the constitution.