PEOPLE | CULTURE | HAPPENINGS
A judge on the state’s highest court helps even the scales
BY SIMON GONZALEZ
HENEVER North Carolina Supreme Court
Justice Barbara Jackson visits her vacation
home at Kure Beach, she is reminded of the
time she went on “Jeopardy” and put a little
crack in the glass ceiling.
It was the mid-1990s, a time when most of the contestants on the
TV quiz show were men.
“There was a lot of noise back then about the lack of women on
‘Jeopardy,’” she says. “My best friend had moved out to Orange County,
California. I said, ‘OK, I’m going to see if I can try out for Jeopardy when
I go to visit her.’ There were 14 people who passed the written test and
only three of us were women. I was about 100 percent sure I was going
to get to come back.”
Her appearance aired on Dec. 23, 1996. She didn’t win, but as a con-solation
prize she received a Broyhill entertainment armoire. When she
and her husband, Scott Mabry, bought the house in Kure Beach in 2010,
the armoire moved from their Raleigh home to the coast.
“The entertainment armoire is sitting at the beach house,” she says.
“I’ve had it for 20 years, and it just happened to match what we were
going to do in the house there.”
The appearance on “Jeopardy” isn’t the only instance of Jackson’s
penchant for, if not exactly glass-ceiling cracking, at least pushing back
Jackson went to law school at the University of North Carolina in the
late ‘80s, when women were still a minority.
“When I was in law school my class was 38 percent women,” she says.
“I think law school classes at Carolina are now more than 50 percent
women. It’s definitely changed.”
After graduating with her Juris Doctor degree in 1990, she embarked
on a legal career that amounts to much more than winning a consola-tion
prize on “Jeopardy.” She clerked for a state Supreme Court associate
justice, served as assistant legal counsel and associate general counsel
to Gov. James Martin, worked as an associate attorney in a Raleigh firm,
and was general counsel for the North Carolina Department of Labor.
In 2004, Jackson was elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals,
helping tilt the gender balance.
“When I was on the Court of Appeals between 2005 and 2010, we got
to a majority of women,” she says. “There were eight women and seven
The North Carolina Supreme Court achieved a majority of women
for the first time when she was sworn in after winning election in 2010,
although subsequent elections tilted the balance back to majority male.
While she is proud of whatever role she’s played in making the pro-fession
more accessible for women, it wasn’t her primary motivation for
leaving her law practice and joining the judiciary.
“I saw opinions I didn’t agree with,” she says. “And then I saw people
from my peer group starting to run for the Court of Appeals. If they can
do it, I can do it.”
Now she’s in a position to write her own opinions as one of seven jus-tices
on the state Supreme Court.
“I’m personally a fan of judicial restraint,” she says. “I don’t like to risk
unintended consequences of writing an overbroad opinion.”
The N.C. Supreme Court functions much like the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is the court of last resort for matters of state law.
“We’re the final word on the North Carolina Constitution,” Jackson
says. “If there’s an issue of U.S. Constitutional law involved, it can be
appealed from our court to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Like their federal colleagues, North Carolina justices have some lati-tude
in deciding which cases to hear.
“We both have what are called discretionary dockets,” she says.
“We both can choose what we think we need to hear. We also have
mandatory jurisdiction, more things that we have to hear than
the U.S. Supreme Court does. We are required to hear all death
penalty appeals. We are required to hear all business court appeals.
We are required to hear all ratemaking cases for the utilities
And starting in January 2019, they will be required to hear all termi-nation
of parental rights cases.
Former appellate court judge Barbara Jackson was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2010.
WBM october 2018