Joseph Branch

21st NC Supreme Court Chief Justice

Date Born: July 5, 1915

Date Died: February 18, 1991

Place Born: Enfield, NC

Place Buried: Elmwood Cemetery in Enfield, NC


Chief Justice 1979-1986
Associate Justice 1966-1979

Joseph Branch was born on July 5, 1915 in Enfield, NC, the son of James Clarence Branch and Laura (Applewhite) Branch. He graduated from Enfield High School in 1932. He received an LL.B. degree from Wake Forest College School of Law in January of 1938, after he had already passed the NC bar in 1937.

In 1938, Joseph Branch returned to Enfield and entered into a law partnership with D. Mack Johnson.

During World War II, Joseph Branch served two years in the U.S. Army. Afterwards, he returned to his law practice in Enfield, NC.

On December 7, 1946, Joseph Branch married Frances Jane Kitchin, daughter of A. Paul Kitchin and Carrie L. Kitchin of Scotland Neck, NC; they had one son and one daughter.

In the 1946 General Elections, Joseph Branch was first elected to represent Halifax County in the NC House of Representatives of the:
- 117th General Assembly that met in 1947
- 118th General Assembly that met in 1949
- 119th General Assembly that met in 1951
- 120th General Assembly that met in 1953

During the 1957 session of the General Assembly, Joseph Branch served as legislative counsel for Governor Luther Hartwell Hodges. During the remainder of the Hodges Administration, Branch was a close and valuable advisor to the Governor.

In 1963, Daniel Killian Moore hired Joseph Branch to manage his gubernatorial campaign, and they won in the 1964 General Election. During the 1965 session of the General Assembly, Joseph Branch served as Governor Moore's legislative counsel and was very effective in shepherding the Governor's program through the General Assembly.

In August 1965, a vacancy occurred on the Supreme Court and Governor Moore immediately offered the position to Branch. While Branch was interested in serving on the Court, he declined to accept the appointment and insisted that the Governor appoint another highly qualified person who was very instrumental in Moore's becoming governor - Isaac Beverly Lake.

As fate would have it, another vacancy occurred on the NC Supreme Court in 1966 when death claimed the highly respected Associate Justice Clifton Leonard Moore on July 12, 1966. Governor Daniel Killian Moore appointed Joseph Branch as an Associate Justice and he was sworn in on August 29, 1966. He was elected in his own right in November of 1966, and re-elected again twice, in 1968 and in 1976.

On August 1, 1979, Governor James Baxter Hunt, Jr. appointed Joseph Branch as the next Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court, replacing Chief Justice Susie Marshall Sharp, who had reached the mandatory retirement age and retired on July 30, 1979. He was elected in his own right in 1980.

Chief Justice Joseph Branch voluntarily retired from the NC Supreme Court on July 31, 1986.

On February 18, 1991, Joseph Branch died, and he was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Enfield, NC.

Appointed as Chief Justice by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. on August 1, 1979. Elected as Chief Justice in the general elections of 1980.

Son of James C. Branch and Laura Applewhite. Graduated from Enfield High School in 1932; LLB from Wake Forest College School of Law 1938.

Member of the Halifax County Bar Association; NC Bar Association; NC State Bar.

Member of the Masons; Enfield Lions Club (President 1941); Board of Trustees, Wake Forest University (Chairman for one term); former member of the Board of Trustees, Wesleyan College (Rocky Mount).

Received Wake Forest University Distinguished Service Citation in Law 1975; Outstanding Alumni Award 1971; Wake Forest University School of Law Carroll Wayland Weathers Distinguished Alumnus Award 1980.

LLD conferred by Campbell University in 1981.

Served in the US armed forces 1943-1945.

NC State Representative 1947-1953.

Delegate, National Convention 1956.

Legislative Council, Governor Luther Hodges 1957.

Campaign Manager, Daniel K. Moore 1964.

Legislative Council, Governor Daniel K. Moore 1965.

Appointed as Associate Justice to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1966 to replace Associate Justice Clifton L. Moore, elected in November of 1966. Re-elected twice.

Married Frances Jane Kitchin on December 7, 1946. Children - Jane Branch Burns and James C.

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