Cheri Beasley to become first African American woman Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that Cheri Beasley will be the next Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

"I know Justice Beasley to be fair and deeply committed to all North Carolinians," Cooper said. "I appreciate her willingness to serve our state in this appointed role."

Beasley is taking over for Mark Martin, who announced his retirement in January.

"I am indeed pleased for the opportunity to lead the judicial branch," Beasley said.

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Cheri Beasley will be the next Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

When asked, Cooper confirmed that Beasley would be the first black woman to lead the North Carolina Supreme Court. Beasley has served on the North Carolina Supreme Court since 2012.

"It is not lost on me -- this historic fact -- especially since this is Black History Month," Beasley said. "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, and so I'm excited about the fact that North Carolina has moved forward," Beasley said.

Congressman G.K. Butterfield, D-NC, was pleased with Cooper's selection.

"I applaud Governor Cooper's appointment of Justice Cheri Beasley to serve as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court," Butterfield said. "During her distinguished career in public and judicial service, Justice Beasley has demonstrated herself as a remarkable legal mind and her character and reputation are beyond reproach. I am confident that as chief justice, she will serve with distinction and sound leadership.

"In 1999, Henry Frye became the state's first African American Chief Justice," Butterfield added. "It is fitting that 20 years later, as we celebrate Black History Month, Justice Beasley will shatter another glass ceiling -- becoming the first African American woman chief justice in North Carolina's history."

Had Cooper followed tradition, Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby would have been elevated to chief justice. He released a statement Tuesday expressing his disappointment at the process.

"Sadly today Governor Cooper decided to place raw, partisan politics over a non-partisan judiciary by rejecting the time-tested tradition of naming the Senior Associate Justice as Chief Justice." Newby said, and he noted that only once since 1900 has a governor "dishonored the tradition of appointing the Court's most senior Justice to that position."

Newby has been a member of the NC Supreme Court since being elected in 2004

"The Governor's decision further erodes public trust and confidence in a fair judiciary, free from partisan manipulation," Newby said. "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."

Republicans were less enthralled with Cooper's decision, calling it "purely politics."

"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," North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes 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."

Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham also expressed disappointment at Cooper's action of passing over more experienced members of the court.

"I wish Justice Beasley well in her new role," Berger said. "However, I am disappointed that Governor Cooper has ignored the decades-old precedent of appointing the most senior member of the court as chief justice. A reasonable conclusion is that he decided to pass over Justice Newby because of his party affiliation."

Beasley 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 J.D. from the University of Tennessee College of Law.
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