History made: Cooper appoints NC’s first Black woman as Chief Justice

Excerpted from two separate stories from
NC Policy Watch
Cheri Beasley made history this week when Gov. Roy Cooper announced that she would become the state’s first Black woman to be chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Beasley stood between the Governor and her husband, Curtis, as she spoke about the significance of her appointment, particularly during Black History Month. “This court this year is coming right at 200 years, and this is certainly not the North Carolina of 200 years ago,” she said. “And so I’m excited about the fact that North Carolina has moved forward, that we do have a diverse court, and it’s so important that people feel good and have a confidence in the work that we do, and so I’m excited about continuing to do that work.”
Beasley has been appointed to the judiciary by three different Governors – the District Court bench in Cumberland County by Gov. Jim Hunt, the Supreme Court by Gov. Bev Perdue and now the Chief Justice post by Cooper. She also served on the state Court of Appeals, where she was the first Black woman to be elected to statewide office without having first been appointed by a Governor.
“I believe that Justice Beasley is a tremendous selection for our Supreme Court,” said Justice Mike Morgan, who was elected in 2016. “She is passionate about justice for everyone, not just in this court but in cases heard throughout the state.” Morgan said he, like Beasley, hopes her appointment shows how far the state has come on race. “North Carolina’s strength is in its diversity of people,” he said. “I believe that this is another indication that North Carolina is continuing to progress.”
In its history, 95 justices have served on the Supreme Court. Of that number, only seven have been people of color and only one of those seven – Henry Frye – has served as long as a full term of eight years.
It’s not expected that much will change under her leadership. The other justices, she said, are always committed to working hard and to properly resolving cases in a timely fashion.
The Chief Justice, though, is responsible for much more than just the work of the high court. They are the leader of the entire judicial system with broad responsibilities, including numerous administrative and appointment duties, designating the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, creating Superior Court sessions and assigning those judges and choosing three-judge panels that hear constitutional challenges.
The Republican Party criticized Cooper for not choosing Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby as Chief Justice. They charged the Governor with putting politics first. Similarly, Newby released a statement after her appointment that he was upset and that Cooper placed “raw partisan politics over a non-partisan judiciary.”
Beasley does not believe partisan politics has any place in the work justices perform on the Supreme Court.
Beasley’s appointment to serve as Chief Justice leaves her current position vacant, and Cooper will also appoint someone to fill it. His decision, which he expects to announce in the next week or so, could change the court to a 6-1 Democratic majority. He’s been asked if he feels any obligation to appoint a Republican to keep a balance on the bench, but said he will appoint the best person for the job, whomever that may be.
Beasley has been invested in working with kids and mentoring and training young lawyers, which she hopes to continue as Chief Justice. She wants people to see how big their possibilities in life can be. “That’s why I think it’s so important and incumbent on the rest of us to help young people to see that the possibilities really are endless, and that so much in our future, and really in our present, depends on their willingness to see that they really are very capable and will offer the hope for North Carolina,” she added.

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