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North Carolina’s First Black Female Chief Justice May Lose Her Seat to Aggrieved White Colleague

The North Carolina Supreme Court has confronted systemic racism, reckoned with the state’s Confederate history, and protected voting rights under the leadership of Cheri Beasley, the first Black woman to serve as its chief justice. Beasley is currently trailing her challenger, Paul Newby, by just 406 votes out of nearly 5.4 million cast. The race will now head into a recount. Newby, a white male Republican who serves on the court alongside Beasley, has loudly and frequently objected to the court’s clear-eyed acknowledgment of racism, using his dissents to attack Beasley, a Democrat, as a judicial activist. If Newby wins, his victory will be a major setback for racial justice in North Carolina.

Newby’s grudge against Beasley has simmered for years. Beasley was first elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2008, becoming the first Black woman to be elected to any statewide office in North Carolina without first being appointed by the governor. Gov. Bev Perdue elevated Beasley to the state Supreme Court in 2012, and she won reelection to the seat in 2014. When Chief Justice Mark Martin stepped down in 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper selected Beasley to replace him, creating a 6–1 liberal majority. Cooper’s decision angered Newby, who believed he was entitled to the chief justiceship as the most senior member of the court. Newby then took the unusual step of challenging Beasley in 2020, running for her position rather than seeking to keep his own seat.

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