The Charlotte Observer published an inflammatory, race baiting, factless opinion piece that is a disservice to its readers and is insulting to Chief Justice Cherie Beasley and Chief Justice-elect Paul Newby.
The author, Virginia Summey, earned her M.A in History and a post-baccalaureate in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Montana, and her Ph.D. in U.S. History and a post-baccalaureate in African American and African Diaspora Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she currently teaches.
In the piece titled, “In Chief Justice Beasley’s loss, race again played a troubling role,” Summey compares Chief Justice Beasley’s 400 vote loss in 2020, to the 1974 loss of District Court Judge Elreta Alexander, an African American woman in a Republican primary to a non-college graduate white candidate. Of course, both Justice Beasley and Justice Newby are highly educated and qualified, nor was this race a primary. The comparison of two races held 46 years apart is absurd on its face.
It’s also a self-serving piece, since according to Summey’s website, “Her biography of pioneering judge Elreta Melton Alexander will be released by the University of Georgia Press in 2021.”
Summey points out that Justice Newby challenged some problematic ballots that happened to be cast by black voters, but she leaves out the critical fact that all of Newby’s challenges were in fact dropped and had no impact on the final vote count.
It is unfair to Justice Beasley who took the unprecedented and high-profile decision to basically shut down the entire court system for an extended period of time due to Covid-19. She also took the controversial step of proclaiming her belief that the entire criminal justice system is racially biased. These decisions were loved by some and loathed by others; but they were consequential and judged on the merits by voters. Beasley was praised as courageous by some, cussed as cowardly by others. Chief Justice Beasley however was not just marking time. It is unfair to the Chief Justice to assess her significant judicial record and a hard-fought contest and razor thin defeat based solely on the color of her skin.
Facts also contradict the entire premise of Summey’s self-serving piece. There were three state Supreme Court races on the ballot in North Carolina in 2020. Republicans won all three races.
Appeals Court Judge Phil Berger defeated a fellow white candidate by 71,000 votes and former State Senator Tamara Barringer beat another white candidate by 130,000 votes. If anything, race worked in Beasley’s favor, helping her make her contest against Newby far closer than the other Supreme Court races..
Also, as noted by NCFREE Executive Director Anna Beavon Gravely, Justice Paul Newby won despite being significantly outspent. According to the most recent third quarter campaign finance numbers, (the most recent available) Paul Newby raised $893,218.41 and Cheri Beasley raised $1,921,755.84.
Beasley raised $1,028,537 more than Newby, and that was before a large fourth quarter spending spree and final television buys for Beasley that Newby was unable to match. How does such a racist electorate fund the black candidate two to three times more than the white candidate?
It is worth noting after a summer of riots, voters turned to Republican judges up and down the ballot, as the GOP swept all eight statewide judicial races, including the three Supreme Court races and five races on the N.C. Court of Appeals. On the Court of Appeals, Fred Gore defeated Lora Christine Cubbage 51.27 % to 48.73%, a race with two candidates of color that showed no higher drop-off or statical difference from the other Court of Appeals races.
While reducing her narrow loss to her race is unfair to Justice Beasley, it is equally unfair to Chief Justice elect Paul Newby who will take command of the administrative functions of the Judicial Branch on January 1, 2021. Summey’s piece is a direct attempt to undermine him before he takes office.
Newby, an Eagle Scout, will be North Carolina’s 30th chief justice and is likely the most qualified person to ever assume the role. He earned a B.A. in Public Policy Studies with High Honors from Duke University and J.D. from UNC School of Law. As a federal prosecutor, Newby led a successful effort to recover North Carolina’s stolen original version of the Bill of Rights. Justice Newby is the senior member of the Supreme Court, first elected in 2004, and re-elected in 2012. He has been elected to the state Supreme Court through both partisan and non-partisan elections.
Newby holds starkly different views than Justice Beasley. Newby has not favored the one size fits all shut down of the courts, stating, “Justice delayed is justice denied. The Judicial Branch needs to collaborate with all the Branch’s local stakeholders–trial judges, clerks, district attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, and civil attorneys–to develop ways to address the increasing backlog of cases in each district.”
Newby has defended the role of law enforcement and the legal system in general, as opposed to Beasley. Newby offered up lines like, “The symbol of the judiciary, Lady Justice, is blindfolded for a reason: everyone is to be treated the same.”
The race for chief justice did offer a choice in color, but it was the kind of bold differences in positions, not pale pastels that Ronald Reagan spoke of. Voters weighed their choices and they made one, a very narrow one on the merits. No self-serving academic reaching back to an irrelevant past to sell an unpublished book can re-write history and change that.