CHIEF JUSTICE ELECTION
Not since 1902 had a North Carolina Supreme Court chief justice initially taken office by way of election. For seventy-two years prior to the 1974 elections, whenever a chief justice died or retired, one in an unbroken string of Democratic governors had appointed the next most senior justice to succeed him. The appointment amounted to a lifetime position, for under what was essentially a one-party system, an incumbent was unlikely to lose his seat or even be opposed when elections were held.1 This procedure reliably ensured a Democrat as chief justice, given the scarcity of Republican justices. Tere had not been a Republican on the court in decades.2
Chief Justice Bobbitt turned seventy-two on October 18, 1972. Had he foreseen that North Carolina voters would deliver a double whammy in the 1972 elections—not only electing a Republican governor but also approving a constitutional amendment mandating retirement of supreme court justices at age seventy-two—he might have resigned beforehand, enabling the Democratic governor to appoint the new chief justice. Under the new law, both Bobbitt and Higgins could finish their terms expiring on December 31, 1974, but they were not eligible to run again. Prior to the 1972 election, however, resigning does not seem to have been on Judge Bobbitt's mind, nor would such a drastic step have been the obvious choice, given the track record of Republican gubernatorial candidates. “Republican governor” was practically an oxymoron. Tus it probably would not have occurred to many observers that even if the mandatory retirement amendment should pass, Bobbitt's forced retirement would coincide with the election of the first Republican governor in the twentieth century. And, of course, if the mandatory retirement provision failed to pass, Justice Higgins as well as the chief justice would be spared, leaving Higgins, second in seniority, as the traditional chiefjustice-in-waiting. Not Justice Sharp.
The composition of the court in 1972, while for the most part congenial