In a historic move, North Carolina has named its first Black woman Supreme Court chief justice who is set to take over the seat of a retiring judge next month.
On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper named Associate Justice Cheri Beasley as chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Her appointment marks the first time a Black woman has held the title, and it comes during the annual celebration of Black History Month.
“It is not lost on me — this historic fact — especially since this is Black History Month,” Beasley said Feb. 12 during a news conference at the Executive Mansion. “I know that the work we do is hugely important, but the other thing I think about are the little girls along the way, who ought to have a sense of promise and hope for their futures, and so I hope that in some way my service inspires young people especially, but really I hope it is a show of symbolism for where we are in North Carolina.”
“This is certainly not the North Carolina of 200 years ago,” she added. “I’m excited about the fact that North Carolina has moved forward, that we do have a diverse court.”
Beasley is set to replace Chief Justice Mark Martin. Last month, he announced he’s stepping down Feb. 28 to become the dean of the Regent University School of Law in Virginia. Beasley brings with her seven years of experience serving on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Before that, she served as an associate judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals following a stint as a district court judge. Beasley was first appointed to the state bench in 1999 by former Governor Jim Hunt.
“Justice Beasley is a well-respected jurist, and I know her to be fair and deeply committed to viewing all North Carolinians equally through the eyes of the law,” Cooper said in a statement. “I appreciate Justice Beasley’s willingness to serve the people of our state in this critical role.”
However, not everyone is singing Beasley’s praises for her new title.
Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in a statement that Cooper’s appointment is “purely politics” for the Democratic governor to appoint a partisan justice.
“Today Governor Cooper decided to skip over two more experienced justices and elevated a justice with less Supreme Court experience to the open post of Chief Justice,” he said. “One can only believe the reason Cooper decided to ignore the longstanding, nonpartisan tradition of the Court was purely politics. Cooper’s constant calls to keep our courts free from political interference rings hollow with this decision.”
Beasley’s appointment goes through the end of 2020, The Associated Press reported. Next year, her seat will be up for re-election for a full eight-year term, for which the Democratic justice said she plans to run. Republican Associate Justice Paul Newby, who has been in office since 2004, told the North State Journal he plans to run, too.
Newby, who had asked publicly to be appointed to the high court’s top slot, took to Twitter to express his feelings about seeing Beasley get the job instead. “Sadly, today Governor Cooper decided to place raw partisan politics over a non-partisan judiciary by refusing to honor the time-tested tradition of naming the Senior Associate Justice as Chief Justice,” Newby griped on the social media platform. “The governor’s decision further erodes public trust and confidence in a fair judiciary, free from partisan manipulation”