RALEIGH — The governor on Wednesday elevated state appellate judge Cheri Beasley to the N.C. Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created by the early resignation of Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson.
Beasley has followed in Timmons-Goodson’s footprints since both were lawyers and then district court judges in Cumberland County. Beasley went to the Court of Appeals in 2009, three years after Timmons-Goodson left that court because she had been appointed to the Supreme Court.
Beasley follows Timmons-Goodson in another important way: Her appointment fulfills Gov. Bev Perdue’s commitment to helping women and minorities advance in state government. Timmons-Goodson was the first African-American woman on the Court of Appeals and again on the Supreme Court, and she will be replaced by another female jurist who is black.
Beasley joins a court that tips conservative in a 4-3 split, and she will not change that balance.
Choosing her creates a vacancy on the state Court of Appeals, and Perdue has given every indication that she intends to appoint someone before her term runs out in January, despite criticism that she ignored the judicial nominating procedure that she had set up to take the politics out of selecting judges.
“I am thrilled to appoint Cheri to our state’s highest court,” Perdue said in a statement her office released. “She has excelled both as a district court judge and as a judge on the Court of Appeals. She will make a superb justice on the Supreme Court.”
Beasley, 46, said in an interview Wednesday that, after 14 years on the bench, she is ready for the challenge.
“I’m honored that Gov. Perdue has appointed me to serve as a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court,” she said. “I’m so honored that she would have confidence in my ability to serve in that capacity, and to do a good job for the people of North Carolina.”
Beasley was a public defender in Cumberland County for five years before becoming a district court judge in 1999. Her career has taken her from defending one of two brothers convicted of killing a pair of lawmen, to ruling in appeals court cases that have helped define North Carolina law.
Those appellate rulings included such issues as upholding a woman’s adoption of her same-sex partner’s child, agreeing with the dismissal of a public-records lawsuit in a case involving the state retirement system, and requiring greater disclosure in political ads.
“All of the cases which come before the Supreme Court, as well as other courts, are important,” she said Wednesday. “People come to the courts looking for solutions and they also expect judges to be fair and impartial.
“In every case I hear it is important to make sure the parties are heard and to indeed be fair and impartial in making those decisions. It’s an incredible trust that the people place on judges and I do appreciate the responsibility and take it very seriously.”
Dick Taylor, president of the trial lawyers group N.C. Advocates for Justice, said the selection was a good one.
“I haven’t heard anyone who hasn’t viewed the judge favorably,” he said. “I think she’ll be a good addition to the court. I’m pleased she’s there.”
Not pleased, however, is state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden, who criticized Perdue for not using the judicial nominating committee that she created by executive order in April 2011.
“We’ve reached a new low when the only way our governor can appoint someone to enforce the law is by breaking her own rules,” Berger said in a statement. “It is increasingly clear that Gov. Perdue’s creation of the judicial screening commission was nothing short of a deceitful political charade.
“And unfortunately her actions overshadow what should be a discussion of Judge Beasley’s credentials.”
Perdue said recently there wasn’t enough time for the committee to fully evaluate three nominees over six weeks, as was anticipated when she created the committee; although the process could be shortened. She added that she will be faced with replacing more than one judge before the year is out. Perdue said she would run names of potential jurists by committee members to get their feedback.
Beasley will finish Timmons-Goodson’s eight-year term, which runs through 2014. One especially contentious issue faces the court next year, when it will be asked to consider the legality of the congressional and legislative districts that Republican lawmakers drew up. Ultimately, that case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Perdue will now turn her attention to replacing Beasley on the Court of Appeals. Speculation on potential candidates includes Pamela Thorpe Young, who is the chairwoman of the N.C. Industrial Commission, and is also a black woman.
Her husband, Reuben Young, who heads the Department of Public Safety, has also been mentioned, as has Cressie Thigpen, an African-American man who in November lost re-election to the Court of Appeals.
Timmons-Goodson did not give a detailed reason for leaving, other than writing to Perdue, “The time has come for me to leave.” Her name has been circulated for a possible federal judgeship.