North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper recently announced that North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley will serve as the next Chief Justice of the state court. Beasley is the first black woman in North Carolina history to lead the state’s highest court.
North Carolina’s current Chief Justice Mark Martin is resigning from his post to become the Dean of the Regent University School of Law in Virginia. Following his resignation, Beasley will assume her new position on March 1.
“I know Justice Beasley to be fair and deeply committed to viewing all North Carolinians equally through the eyes of the law,” said Cooper when announcing Beasley’s new position.
Beasley has been a judge for the past twenty years, and has served on the state Supreme Court since 2012. Beasley first served as a public defender in Fayetteville before becoming a judge.
“This is not the North Carolina of 200 years ago,” said Beasley in a press conference at the governor’s mansion.
The change in roles will leave Beasley’s Associate Justice seat vacant and Cooper will need to find a replacement for her. If Cooper selects another Democrat to replace Beasley, the court will have a six to one Democratic majority. Before Martin’s retirement, the court had been five to two in favor of Democrats. The court’s only remaining Republican is Associate Justice Paul Newby. Newby currently has the longest tenure on the court.
Despite the importance of having the first Black woman as the Chief Justice for North Carolina, there is controversy surrounding the decision. In North Carolina, judges are typically elected, not appointed. However, after Martin announced his resignation, state law gave Cooper the authority to select someone to fill the open position. Cooper’s decision to select Beasley rather than one of the other members of the State Supreme Court broke tradition.
“There is no doubt that there are, I think, six members—other members—of the North Carolina Supreme Court who have the ability to serve as chief justice,” said Cooper, adding that he also considered people outside of the court for Chief Justice. “Justice Beasley is the right person at the right time”
Newby spoke about his frustrations with Cooper’s decision and stated that he looks forward to running against Cooper in the upcoming elections.
“Sadly, today, Governor Cooper decided to place raw, partisan politics over a nonpartisan judiciary by rejecting the time-tested tradition of naming the Senior Associate Justice as chief justice,” said Newby in a statement. “The governor’s decision further erodes public trust and confidence in a fair judiciary, free from partisan manipulation. While many talk of removing partisan politics from the courts, the governor’s actions today in using party label to make his selection is a reminder that actions speak louder than words.”