By Cash Michaels, Contributing writer –
When Associate NC Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley officially takes over as Chief Justice on March 1st, she will remain in that role until 2020.
But make no mistake – she’s already vowed to run for election to maintain that seat, and given Beasley’s record of winning judicial elections, it’s a vow that any possible and probable opponents would be wise to take seriously.
“Let me be clear …I will indeed be seeking election in 2020, and I’m excited and I’m ready to go,” she declared during a telephone interview last week, two days after Gov. Cooper made history by appointing her the first African-American female chief justice of the state’s highest court, succeeding the outgoing Chief Justice Mark Martin, a Republican. The court’s remaining Republican, Associate Justice Paul Newby, was not pleased with the governor’s choice, saying that it should have been him because he has the longest tenure of service. “[Gov. Cooper]… decided to place raw partisan politics over a non-partisan judiciary…,” Newby, who is expected to challenge Beasley, a Democrat, for the seat in 2020, said in an angry statement.
“I am very comfortable with who I am as a person,” Justice Beasley said in an indirect response. “I am comfortable with the fact that the governor has placed his confidence in me and that I’m equipped to do this job.”
And exactly what does a chief justice of the NC Supreme Court do? The chief justice is the head of the third branch of state government. Besides leading the court, she will determine the schedule for the cases to be argued, and other administrative matters before the court. There is also an executive director who assists with those day-to-day responsibilities.
Becoming chief justice is not something Justice Beasley even considered when she began serving on District Court in Cumberland County twenty years ago. And there weren’t any black female chief justices in other states to emulate until Georgia Chief Justice Leah Sears in 2005. “I thought it was just such an honor to have been selected, and then elected to serve,” she recalls, noting when then Gov. Jim Hunt appointed her in 1999, after five years in the Public Defenders Office.
Once elected to the District Court, Beasley spent a total of ten years on that bench. After a few years on the NC Court of Appeals, then Gov. Beverly Perdue tapped Judge Beasley to serve out the remaining term of NC Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson in December 2012, becoming only the second black female jurist ever on the NC High Court. Two years later, Justice Beasley won election to that seat.
“Justice can be served in so many ways, and the more you see it, the more you want to see it, because you know how talented we are, and those talented ought to be recognized,” Justice Beasley says.
On the 200th anniversary of the NC Supreme Court, this is an historic year. There are three African-Americans on North Carolina’s highest bench – more than ever in our history, more than other state in the nation. Last November civil rights attorney Anita Earls was elected during the mid-terms. Justice Beasley says her new colleague, who joins Justice Mike Morgan and she, has proven to be a welcome edition.
“Even in a very short period of time, she is a valuable member of the court,” Beasley says. “Her insight and professional experiences have brought a really profound perspective to the court. Justice Earls had no prior judicial experience, but that does not limit her abilities or her keen sense of analysis of the issues before the court. So she is a joy to work with , a welcomed addition to the court…”
Justice Beasley continued, “The fact that this is Black History Month, it’s powerful, it’s really powerful that we have such a diverse bench , and that we’re in a place in North Carolina where literally all of us have been selected by the people to serve, and I think that says a whole lot about where we are, and where we want to be. “