Cheri Beasley will make history as first black woman to lead North Carolina Supreme Court

Noting that her appointment came during Black History Month, Beasley quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and said she hopes to serve as an inspiration to young girls.
Judge Cheri Beasley

The next chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court will be a woman – a black woman.

Gov. Roy Cooper said today that Judge Cheri Beasley is his pick to lead the state’s high court. She will be the first black woman to hold that position.

Beasley, already an associate justice on the court, noted that her appointment came during Black History Month, according to the News & Observer of Raleigh, which had a reporter at the official announcement at the Governor’s Mansion.

“This is not the North Carolina of 200 years ago,” the newspaper quoted Beasley as saying.

“She quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and said she hopes to serve as an inspiration to young girls,” the N&O reported, adding that Beasley said she wants to “make sure that our justice system is sound, that we are indeed serving the people of North Carolina the way we should.”

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How did this appointment come about?

Judges in North Carolina are normally elected. Beasley’s appointment was made possible after former Chief Justice Mark Martin announced in January that he would retire this month, leaving a vacancy.

“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 announcing the appointment. “I appreciate Justice Beasley’s willingness to serve the people of our state in this critical role.”

Beasley has served on the state Supreme Court since 2012. She was previously an associate judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and before that served as a District Court judge. Gov. Jim Hunt first appointed Beasley to the state bench in 1999. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and received her law degree from the University of Tennessee.

Did Cooper break with tradition?

In naming Beasley the state’s top judge, Cooper, a Democrat, chose to bypass associate justice Paul Newby, a Republican with longer tenure on the court.

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Newby responded with a tweet, alleging that Cooper placed “raw partisan politics over a non-partisan judiciary. The governor’s decision further erodes public trust and confidence in a fair judiciary, free from partisan manipulation.”

Democrats currently hold a 5-2 majority on the court. The other Republican is Martin, the retiring chief justice.

With Beasley’s elevation, Cooper will also get to name her replacement. If he appoints a Democrat, Newby would be the lone Republican. He has previously said he plans to run for the chief justice job in 2020, setting up a possible race against Beasley.

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