Opening Arguments

The seven NC Supreme Court justices: seated (from left to right): Justice Paul M. Newby, Chief Justice Mark Martin, Justice Robin Hudson. Standing (from left to right): Justice Sam J. Ervin IV, Justice Barbara A. Jackson, Justice Cheri Beasley, Justice Michael Morgan.

When the golden-domed Historic Henderson County Courthouse on Main Street opened in 1905, the North Carolina Supreme Court had been convening in Raleigh for 87 years. And when the Courthouse celebrated its centennial in 2005, the Supreme Court celebrated its 187th year.

But in all that time, right up to the state court’s 200th anniversary this year, the justices never ventured further west than Morganton, much less as far as Hendersonville, even though the county was named after the Court’s second Chief Justice, Leonard Henderson, in 1838. This year, though, they’re taking the plunge.

To mark the bicentennial of the state’s highest court, created by the General Assembly in 1818 when the western part of the state was still mostly wilderness, the Court’s seven justices will convene for the first time in history on May 15 in the upstairs courtroom of the historic building. The justices will hear arguments in two cases on its regular docket, each up to two hours long.

“This will be a regular session hearing cases, and I anticipate full attendance,” says County Manager Steve Wyatt. “We hosted the state Court of Appeals a year or two back, and that went very well. It seems they shared their experience with the Supreme Court.” County officials and the county Bar Association successfully urged the Court to add Hendersonville to its travel schedule, and began working with court administrators early in the year to plan the spring visit.

Although several justices in the Court’s long history have hailed from Western North Carolina, the Court is normally prohibited by state law from meeting outside Raleigh, with just two exceptions up until this year — Edenton and Morganton. But with the bicentennial approaching, the General Assembly granted the Court’s request to convene in other cities. Besides Hendersonville, the Court will sit in Asheville on the 16th, along with other host cities among the state’s 100 counties, through 2019.

“It’s really a great honor and privilege,” notes Mike Edney, the chair of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, which approved the use of the old courtroom for the visit. Given the limited seating, only 150 tickets for each of the two cases are available through the Bar Association. “School administrators are selecting students to attend, and other activities are planned while the justices are here,” says Wyatt. The idea is to use the bicentennial to educate citizens of all ages about the Court’s role in community life — and how its decisions affect the daily lives of North Carolinians.

The North Carolina Supreme Court will convene at the Historic Henderson County Courthouse (downtown, corner of 1st and Main) on the morning of Tuesday, May 15, to hear arguments in two cases, one at 9:30am and another at 11am. Call 828-697-4719 or 828-393-5770 for ticket information.

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