RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that current Supreme Court Associate Justice Cheri Beasley will become the next chief justice, making her the first African-American woman to hold the job.
Beasley, a former trial judge and Court of Appeals judge initially named to the state’s highest court in 2012, is Cooper’s choice to succeed Chief Justice Mark Martin. He’s resigning Feb. 28 to lead the Regent University law school in Virginia. The chief justice is also considered the head of the judicial branch, with more than 6,000 employees and judicial officials and over a half-billion dollar budget.
Like Cooper, Beasley is a registered Democrat, one of five currently on the seven-member court. Beasley’s appointment goes through the end of 2020. The chief justice’s seat now will be on next year’s ballot for a full eight-year term, and Beasley said at an Executive Mansion news conference with Cooper that she plans to run for it.
Beasley said her elevation as a first on the court wasn’t lost on her, especially during Black History Month. She said she hoped her service would inspire young girls “to have a sense of promise and hope for their futures.”
“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 the confidence in the work that we do,” Beasley said.
Cooper’s choice doesn’t follow the tradition of the governor filling a vacant chief justice position with the most veteran justice, who has been usually from the governor’s party. That Democrat would have been Justice Robin Hudson, who turns 67 next week. State law requires her to step down in early 2024, at age 72. Beasley turns 53 on Thursday.
Cooper also bypassed the most senior overall in Associate Justice Paul Newby. He and Martin are the only registered Republicans on the court. Newby said he now intends to run for chief justice next year. Republicans in charge of the General Assembly had urged Cooper publicly to appoint Newby as chief justice.
Cooper said “Justice Beasley is the right person at the right time,” citing her varied legal experience. He said all six current associate justices would have been qualified in his eyes to become chief justice.
By Cooper picking a chief justice from the current court, three of the seven seats will be on the 2020 ballot — chief justice, Newby’s current spot and the associate justice seat about to become vacant with Beasley’s elevation. Cooper gets to fill that position, too, through the end of next year.
Beasley, a Tennessee native, married with two sons, got her law degree from the University of Tennessee. She served in the Cumberland County prosecutor’s office beginning in the mid-1990s and became a local District Court judge there in 1999. She was elected to the 15-member intermediate-level Court of Appeals in 2008, defeating incumbent Doug McCullough.
Beasley was appointed to the Supreme Court in the final weeks of Perdue’s administration. She filled the vacancy left by the retiring Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson. She was elected to a full eight-year term in 2014.