Explainer: NC Chief Justice Beasley Speaks Out on Racial Injustice

Explainer: NC Chief Justice Beasley Speaks Out on Racial Injustice

When N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced that she would hold a press conference to address systemic racism and the protests against it that are taking place across the country, some were surprised.

After all, it’s quite uncommon for judges to hold process conferences. Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal recently pointed

And it’s precisely the uncommon nature of what’s happening both here in North Carolina and all across the U.S. that prompted Chief Justice Beasley to speak out in the first place.

Chief Justice Beasley Felt Compelled to Speak Out About the Pain and Grief After George Floyd’s Death

When she spoke from her courtroom on June 2, Chief Justice Beasley, the first African-American woman to serve as the state’s Chief Justice in its 200-year history, began by explaining that she felt “compelled to speak … about the pain and grief our nation is experiencing over the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and far too many others.”

“Thousands of people of all different races have flooded the streets in large cities and small towns all over the nation,” she said. Chief Justice Beasley continued, “These protests highlight the disparities and injustice that continue to plague black communities. Disparities that exist as a result of policies and institutions; racism and prejudice have remained stubbornly fixed and resistant to change.”

Chief Justice Beasley went on to describe the protests as “a resounding, national chorus of voices whose lived experiences reinforce the notion that Black people are ostracized, cast out, and dehumanized.” “Communities are crying out for justice and demanding real, meaningful change,” she said.

“Communities are crying out for justice and remanding real, meaningful change.”

Chief Justice Beasley also spoke to how “shocking” it was “to see our workplaces, businesses and community spaces damaged.” “But,” she continued, “we must recognize the legitimate pain and weight of years of disparate treatment that fuels these demonstrations.” She specifically called on North Carolinians to “decry the failures of justice and equity just as forcefully as we decry the violence.”

In concluding, Chief Justice Beasley called on everyone to “come together to firmly and loudly commit to the declaration that all people are created equal, and we must do more than just speak that truth.” And, she recognized, this requires that judges and the justice system as a whole commit to doing the same: “We must live it every day in our courtrooms. My pledge to you today is that we will.”

Chief Justice Beasley posted a video of her remarks on her web site. She’s up for reelection in 2022.

Chief Justice Beasley Wasn’t Alone in Speaking Out—She Was Just First

Although Chief Justice Beasley’s decision to speak out on racial injustice seemed uncommon at the time, now, several days later, it turns out that her statement is just one—the first—of many. “I have heard from lots of courts and chiefs across the nation since I made my statement, and many of them have said that my statement inspired them to speak out,” she told The Wall Street Journal.

Chief Justice Beasley is absolutely right. Since her press conference on June 2, courts and judges from across the nation have issued statements addressing the racial injustices that continue to haunt the U.S.—as well as its judicial system.

State Courts Follow Chief Justice Beasley’s Lead

On June 5, three days after Chief Justice Beasley’s press conference, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a letter on behalf of the court’s four justices, expressing their sadness “that the ideals on which our society is founded are far from the reality of many people’s lives.” The statement continued, “We recognize that too often African-Americans, Alaska Natives, and other people of color are not treated with the same dignity and respect as white members of our communities.” The justices committed themselves “to seek always to ensure equal justice under the law.”

Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson followed suit several days later, issuing a three-page open letter to her colleagues on June 8. In her letter, Chief Justice Johnson addressed the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on her state’s African-American community as well as “the brazen killing of” George Floyd, which she described as “but one of countless others, including Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, that has been senselessly taken by a system that espouses equal rights under the law.” Chief Justice Johnson candidly recognized that the judicial system not only has been a part of the problem but also must be a part of the solution: “Please join me in recognizing that we have been part of the problem, so that we may all today become part of the solution in achieving equal justice for all.”

Yeah, California …

The Supreme Court of California likewise followed Chief Justice Beasley’s lead, issuing a statement on June 11. “It is all too clear that the legacy of past injustices inflicted on African Americans persists powerfully and tragically to this day,” the statement on behalf of all seven of the court’s justices read. “Each of us has a duty,” the statement continued, “to recognize there is much unfinished and essential work that must be done to make equality and inclusion an everyday reality for all.” “In our profession and in our daily lives, we must confront the injustices that have led millions to call for a justice system that works fairly for everyone.”

The Supreme Court of Texas issued a brief statement that same day as well, recognizing that “[c]ritical conversations are taking place in communities across Texas about equality and justice under the law.”

It’s uncommon for judges and courts to address the issues—like racial injustice—that are facing Americans outside of their courtroom walls. And that’s true even when those issues have a significant impact on what happens inside of those walls. But, when Chief Justice Beasley felt compelled to take that uncommon step on June 2 here in North Carolina, it turned out that she wasn’t taking it alone. She was just taking it first.

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