North Carolina’s First Black Female Chief Justice Fighting For Her Seat

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is hoping to keep her seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court as a narrow election race threatens a loss. 

Beasley, a Democrat, ran for reelection this year against Republican challenger Paul Newby. Newby serves on the court alongside Beasley and is ahead in the race by just 406 votes according to a report by Slate Magazine

The race will head to a recount of approximately 5.4 million votes cast in the November 3 election. 

Beasley is the first Black woman to hold the position on the state’s highest court after being appointed to the role in 2019. Under her leadership, the state has addressed its Confederate history, secured voting rights, and tackled systemic racism. 

Newby has been a loud opponent of the court’s racial justice agenda under Beasley’s leadership. Her appointment to the chief justice role by Governor Roy Cooper reportedly angered Newby to the point he ran for her seat as chief justice rather running a race to keep his own seat on the high court. 

Beasley became the first Black woman to be elected to any state office in North Carolina without a gubernatorial appointment after being elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2008. 

She was promoted to the state Supreme Court in 2012 by then-governor Bev Perdue. In 2014, she maintained her seat through reelection. 

The Racial Justice Act in North Carolina presented a very clear division between Beasley and Newby, sparking Newby’s unusual race for the chief justiceship. 

Passed in 2009, the Racial Justice Act (RJA) provided people on death row the opportunity to challenge their sentence by proving systemic racism played a role in their sentencing. 

Marcus Robinson was the first person to secure a hearing under the RJA. He provided the court with evidence including racist handwritten notes between the prosecution and statistical data on juries and race, proving systemic racism contributed to his sentence. 

A series of changes in the law, including a 2013 repeal of the act put the fates of more than 100 people on death row who had already applied for a hearing under the RJA in limbo.  

Chief Justice Beasley wrote the opinion of the court on the matter in August of this year, writing on the racial injustice Black people face in the state’s court and citing the evidence Robinson presented in his case. 

This angered Newby who accused Beasley and two other Black justices of having a larger agenda, and denying racism in the state’s court system. 

Newby tried to claim voter fraud as votes were still being counted in the days after the election, even going as far as filing formal complaints in the courts, an unprecedented move by a candidate. 

He took on campaign messaging similar to Donald Trump, telling his Democratic colleagues “I will buy you a ticket to leave. I mean just leave.” 

The ideological differences between Beasley and Newby elevates the importance of the race and the recount. With Beasley as chief justice, the state’s high court can continue to champion racial justice and equality in the legal system.

Photo: Getty Images

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