By Kenya Parrish & Sophia Pappalardo

The Honorable James Dickson Phillips Jr. was born in Laurinburg, North Carolina on September 23, 1922.[1] Judge Phillips graduated as the salutatorian of his high school in 1939 and went on to attend Davidson College.[2] At Davidson, Judge Phillips was the captain of the baseball team and achieved Phi Beta Kappa academic honors.[3] In addition to playing baseball, Judge Phillips was also a member of the Army ROTC program at Davidson, and after graduating in 1943, Judge Phillips enlisted in the United States Army as a 2nd Lieutenant.[4] Judge Phillips then fought and was injured in World War II and was later honored with the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his military service.[5]

In 1945, Judge Phillips rode with his friend as he traveled to begin his studies at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and after meeting with the dean, Phillips was admitted on the spot to study at the law school as well.[6] Just as he did at Davidson, Judge Phillips excelled academically in law school, serving as Associate Editor of the North Carolina Law Review and earning Order of the Coif academic honors.[7] Judge Phillips’s first job after graduating from law school was serving as the assistant director of the UNC Institute of Government.[8] In 1949, Judge Phillips then returned to his hometown of Laurinburg to work in private practice with his longtime friend and law school classmate, Terry Sanford, who later served as Governor of North Carolina.[9]

After working as a trial lawyer, Judge Phillips returned to the UNC School of Law in 1959 as a visiting professor in civil procedure and related subjects.[10] Judge Phillips later became an associate professor, and in 1964, he became a tenured full professor and the eighth Dean of the UNC School of Law.[11] During his ten-year term as dean, the law school inaugurated the Holderness Moot Court program, sponsored of the school’s first clinical classes, carried out the largest fundraising effort in the school’s history, and had a North Carolina bar passage rate of 95.8% among its graduates.[12]

Judge Phillips was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by President Carter on July 20, 1978.[13] He assumed senior status in 1994.  Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, III described Judge Phillips as a “heroic man of courage, both on the military battlefield and in a courtroom.  He had a great feel for humanity, and a strong combination of intellect, integrity and humility.  He exemplified what is good about being a judge.”[14]

Many of the cases Judge Phillips addressed involved contentious topics that are still relevant today: minority voting rights, gerrymandering, and sex discrimination.[15] Notably, he wrote the opinion for Gingles v. Edminsten, where the court held that a North Carolina redistricting plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.[16] The decision was appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the judgment for all but one of the House Districts.[17]

Ten years later, Judge Phillips dissented from the Fourth Circuit panel’s majority decision in United States v. Virginia, a sex discrimination case.[18] The majority held that a state-sponsored all-male military program at the Virginia Military Institute did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause as long as the state also supported an all-female leadership program at the all-female Mary Baldwin College.[19] Judge Phillips wrote, “I would . . . declare the VMI men-only policy still in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and order that the violation be ended . . . .”[20] A year later, and consistent with Judge Phillips’s dissent, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Fourth Circuit’s decision.[21]

Judge Phillips sat on the Fourth Circuit until 1999.[22] After twenty-one years on the bench, he was succeeded by Judge James A. Wynn, who described Judge Phillips as “one who exuded grace and gentility coupled with great scholarship.  He was a role model.”[23] Others described him as a “colorful storyteller with a quick wit and sly sense of humor.”[24] At the age of ninety-four, the Honorable James Dickson Phillips Jr. passed away at his home on August 27, 2017.[25]

[1] John Charles Boger, J. Dickson Phillips Jr.: Preparation for Judicial Excellence, 92 N.C. L. Rev. 1789, 1789 (2014); Anne Blythe, He Earned a Purple Heart, Led UNC Law and Shaped Civil Rights as a Judge, News & Observer (Aug. 30, 2017, 5:59 PM),

[2]  Boger, supra note 1 at 1790.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 1791.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id. at 1792.

[11] Id.; Martin H. Brinkley, Carolina Law Community Remembers Dean and Judge James Dickson Phillips Jr. ’48 (1922-2017), U.N.C. Sch. L.(Aug. 29, 2017),

[12] Boger, supra note 1 at 1793.

[13] Judge James Dickson Phillips, Jr., U. N.C. Sch. L., visited Oct. 1, 2018).

[14] Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Remembers Judge J. Dickson Phillips, Jr., U.S. Ct. of Appeals for the Fourth Cir. (August 31, 2017),

[15] Blythe, supra note 1.

[16] Gingles v. Edminsten, 590 F. Supp. 345, 350 (E.D.N.C. 1984).

[17] See Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 80 (1986).

[18] U.S. v. Virginia, 44 F.3d 1229, 1242–51 (4th Cir. 1995).

[19] Id. at 1232.

[20] Id. at 1243.

[21] U.S. v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515, 515–18 (1996).

[22] Blythe, supra note 1.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

By Elizabeth DeFrance

On May 27, 2015, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the civil case Wright v. North Carolina. The Court considered whether the District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina erred in ruling Senate President Pro Tem Philip Berger and General Assembly Speaker Thom Tillis could not be properly enjoined to a suit claiming the redrawing of Wake County Board of Education electoral districts violated the “one person, one vote” guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and the North Carolina Constitution. The Court also considered whether the district court erred in granting the defendants’ Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss when the plaintiffs’ complaint alleged “facts sounding in arbitrariness” without explicitly stating the element.

After Elections Resulted in a Democratic Majority on the Board of Education, the Republican-led General Assembly Passed a Bill to Redraw Electoral Districts

The Wake County Board of Education redrew electoral districts after the 2010 census, as required by the General Assembly. The resulting districts were geographically compact and had a maximum population deviation of 1.66%. The first election under the new plan resulted in a Democratic majority on the Board of Education. In spite of objections from the majority of the School Board, the Republican-led General Assembly passed Session Law 2013-110 (“Session Law”), redrawing the electoral districts. The changes resulted in seven less geographically compact districts and two “super districts.” One super district is an outer ring of rural areas and the other a central urban area. The maximum population deviation between the super districts is 9.8%. The Session Law also prohibits the Board of Education from making any changes to its election procedures until 2021.

Calla Wright along with twelve other individual Wake County citizens and two citizen associations brought a claim against the State of North Carolina and the Wake County Board of Elections alleging the redistricting violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution because the votes of Plaintiffs living in overpopulated districts weigh less than the votes of people living in underpopulated districts.

Defendants filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs moved to amend to substitute Governor Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Philip Berger, and General Assembly Speaker Thom Tillis for the State of North Carolina. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss and denied Plaintiffs’ motion to amend.

State Officials May be Enjoined for the Use of State Power in Violation of the Constitution Only if they Have a Connection with Enforcement of the Act

The Court noted that although the Eleventh Amendment provides some immunity for state officials from private suits brought in federal court, an official may properly be enjoined if he has “some connection with the enforcement of an unconstitutional act.” The North Carolina Constitution does not provide the General Assembly with power to enforce laws, and both Berger and Tillis are members of the General Assembly. Thus, because neither Proposed Defendant has authority to enforce the redistricting plan, the Court held that they could not be properly enjoined and Plaintiffs’ motion to amend was properly denied. The Plaintiffs, in their reply brief to the Court, had conceded that McCrory was not a proper defendant.

To Survive Summary Judgment Where the Population Deviation is Below 10%, a Plaintiff Must Produce Evidence that the Apportionment was Arbitrary or Discriminatory

On the issue of whether summary judgment was properly granted for the defendants, the Court looked to the “one person, one vote” principle inherent in the Equal Protection Clause. When constructing districts, governments must “make an honest and good faith effort” to make the population in each as close to equal as is practicable. When a plaintiff brings a claim related to a redistricting plan with a population deviation below 10%, he has the burden to provide additional evidence showing the redistricting process had a “taint of arbitrariness or discrimination.”

Plaintiffs’ Factual Allegations “Sounding in Arbitrariness” Were Sufficient to Provide Defendants Fair Notice of Their Claims

The Court noted that Plaintiffs’ complaint alleged the redistricting discriminated between urban and rule voters because the rural districts were “unjustifiably underpopulated” and the urban districts were “overpopulated without justification.” The Plaintiffs also pointed out that the Board of Education was opposed to the Session Law, and that no African-American or Democratic members of the General Assembly voted for it. The Court reasoned that this suggested the law was “neither racially or otherwise neutral.”

The Court reasoned that although Plaintiffs did not expressly plead that the Session Law was arbitrary or discriminatory, their factual allegations sounded in arbitrariness and provided defendants fair notice of their claims.

The Court also rejected the district court’s justification for dismissal based on its view that plaintiffs had a political gerrymandering claim rather than a “one person, one vote” claim. The Court concluded that Plaintiffs clearly pled an equal protection claim.

Plaintiffs’ Federal Constitution and North Carolina Constitution Equal Protection Claims Were Improperly Dismissed

The Court held that because Plaintiffs’ complaint clearly pled facts supporting arbitrariness and discrimination, their Federal Constitution equal protection claim was improperly dismissed under 12(b)(6). For the same reasons, Plaintiffs’ North Carolina equal protection claim was also improperly dismissed. Additionally, because the Proposed Defendants did not have authority to enforce the Session Law, they could not be enjoined and Plaintiffs’ request to amend was properly denied. Accordingly, the case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz dissented. She reasoned that the Plaintiffs’ pleadings did not overcome the presumption of constitutionality for a redistricting plan with a maximum population deviation under 10% because the complaint did not use the words “arbitrariness” or “invidious discrimination” and failed to allege facts supporting such claims.