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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Naomi Elizabeth Morris, November 11 and 16, 1982, and March 29, 1983. Interview B-0050. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern woman appointed as one of the first judges on the North Carolina Court of Appeals

In this excerpt, Morris describes how she learned that Governor Dan Moore wanted to appoint her to the newly forming North Carolina Court of Appeals in 1967. Morris had campaigned for Moore's election in 1965. During that time, Moore grew confident in Morris's abilities as a jurist and thought she could help make the Court of Appeals a success. Morris, who had never contemplated a career in politics, willingly took a pay cut to leave her job as a lawyer and become a judge.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Naomi Elizabeth Morris, November 11 and 16, 1982, and March 29, 1983. Interview B-0050. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I thought that a way to begin to get into that would be for you to reminisce a bit about the time in 1967 when you first learned that Governor Moore wished you to do this. Do you recall exactly how you got wind that this was in his mind?
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
Yes, I got a telephone call from Rachel Speers, who was Governor Moore's girl Friday, telling me that the Governor wanted to see me the next morning at eleven o'clock. I had no idea what he wanted to see me about. I went down to the office the next morning and rearranged my schedule and told my senior partner that the Governor wanted to see me at eleven o'clock. I thought that he wanted to see me about a young man in Wilson who, I knew, wanted to be on the Superior Court then, but I did not feel that this particular young man was qualified to be on the bench. My problem at that point was how to tell Governor Moore that I felt that this would not be a good appointment. I asked my senior partner, "Shall I tell Governor Moore exactly how I feel, or exactly what should I do, because I feel that's what he wants to see me for." Mr. Lucas said, "Well, I don't think that's what he wants to see you about, but if he does, you must be honest with him and tell him exactly what you think." I said, "Why don't you think that's what he wants to talk about?" He said, "Well, I think he wants to talk to you about a judicial appointment." I said, "Oh, no, because I've already sent word that I wouldn't be interested in a Superior Court appointment." So I went on to Raleigh, and when I went in the Governor's office we chatted for a while, and he said that he wanted me to join the Court of Appeals as one of its first members. I told him that I had no idea that's what he had in mind, that it never entered my mind that that's what he would want, and I would certainly have to think about that because I didn't think that I was qualified to do the job, and he said he thought I was. I asked him if I could have some time, and he said yes, and I said, "Well, when do you need to know something?" He said, "I'll give you twenty-four hours." I left his office and went straight to Judge Sharp's office, and she said, "I've been expecting you. I thought maybe you'd be here before now." I said, "No. Do you know what I want to talk to you about?" She said, "Yes, I hope that Dan Moore has asked you to be on the Court of Appeals." I said, "Well, he has. What do you think I ought to do?" She said, "I think you ought to do it." I said, "Well, I just don't know that I'm competent for that," and she said she thought that I was, and she thought I had a duty to do it, and she certainly wanted to insist that I do it. I left her and went home to my mother and asked her what she thought about it, and she said, "Do what you think is best," as she always did. I said, "Well, you know that would mean my being in Raleigh a good part of the time." She said, "That'd be all right, if you think that's the thing you ought to do. I think if Governor Moore has that much confidence in you, I think probably you should go ahead and accept it." Then I went and talked to my senior partner, and he said, "I thought that's what he wanted with you." I thought about it and I thought about it all night, and finally I called Governor Moore the next morning and told mim if he thought that I could do it and he had confidence in me, I was willing to give it a try. We talked about swearing-in ceremonies and things of that sort, and I said, "Well, if you need to get in touch with me, just call me." He said, "Wait a minute. Don't you want to know what the job pays?" I said, "No, it doesn't matter. I know it's less than what I'm getting now." He said, "That's right." I took a cut in pay and came on the Court of Appeals.
PAT DEVINE:
You learned in July, I believe, and then you were going to being that following October.
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
Yes. Of course, he told me before July that he wanted me to do it. The announcement was made public in July. Then I had to begin closing out my part of the law practice and dishing out cases and things to other members of the firm. We started really settling down to work in late September or early October. I was sworn in in early July.