Many people rightly associate Lady Justice with being blindfolded, a simple symbol that speaks to fairness and equality. Similarly, the scales of justice sit evenly in her hand. In her recent comments reaching out to protestors, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, who is the head of the judicial branch, placed her weighty thumb on the scales of justice.
As documented by The News and Observer:
N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley said Tuesday that racism and prejudice “stubbornly persist” in the state and that blacks continue to see unequal treatment through the judicial system.
Tearful at times, Beasley gave a short address from the court chambers in Raleigh, calling for the state to listen to protesters decrying police violence and understand the deep roots of their frustration.
In her official role as chief justice, speaking from the court’s chambers, Justice Beasley stated:
“Too many people believe that there are two kinds of justice. They believe it because that is their lived experience — they have seen and felt the difference in their own lives. The data also overwhelmingly bears out the truth of those lived experiences. In our courts, African Americans are more harshly treated, more severely punished and more likely to be presumed guilty.”
What many people overlook about Lady Justice is that she is also armed with a sword. This symbol should serve as a reminder that justice has an obligation to carry out the law, which sometimes includes harsh consequences. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.”
In casting aspersions on the court system as a whole, the chief justice impugned the reputation of every judge, prosecutor, clerk, probation officer, magistrate, and law enforcement officer who has dedicated their life to the cause of justice, as well as countless everyday citizens that honorably serve as jurors. As if it is not hard enough already to find jurors who at the most are paid $5.00 an hour, now to be cast as possibly racially biased by the chief justice of the State Supreme Court will only make more people unwilling to serve.
It should be noted that according to the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, (Cannon 2-A):
“A judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself/herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
The role of the chief justice should be to inspire confidence in the system while taking concrete, actionable plans to oversee it. It is difficult to have faith in a court system when the person elected to be the chief administrator of that system takes time to publicly disparage it.
In abandoning her role as an impartial arbiter of justice, the person Gov. Roy Cooper appointed as chief justice has undermined the integrity of our judicial system. How? Because, according to her, “people believe” that the system is unfair. No facts. No specifics. But, all the platitudes of “wokeness.”
In response to the chief justice, Michael W. Miller, the elected district attorney for Cleveland and Lincoln Counties wrote:
“I was elected to represent the people of my district. ALL people. That means black, white, rich, poor, Democrat or Republican. While I know I have made plenty of mistakes as the elected DA, I can unequivocally state that I have never exercised prosecutorial discretion based on any of those. Ever. We make decisions based on the merits of our case and a defendant’s prior record level. If convicted, the Court has to sentence a defendant based on the severity of the crime and his/her prior record level, from a sentencing chart. As a general rule, the Court cannot deviate from that chart and race is never a factor for deviation.
To state that ‘we must openly acknowledge the disparities that exist and are too often perpetrated by our justice system’, denigrates the hard work of every stakeholder in the judicial system and tacitly approbates the lawless behavior of the rioters who are destroying property and threatening the foundation of our civilized society. We must maintain law and order. Without that, we devolve into anarchy. While that may excite Antifa fans, it would be devastating for all citizens and our way of life.
Coming from the head of the judicial branch of North Carolina’s government, it tells citizens that you cannot trust the justice system to be fair. The system is either explicitly or implicitly biased. We know that we fight daily for the victims of crime. All victims. Unfortunately, many times in our society, violent crimes occur in a minority community, and therefore, our victims are black. We will continue to fight for those victims and all victims. We will continue to fairly adjudicate all criminal defendants, regardless of race. We will continue to stand with minority communities against racism, in whatever form it may rear its ugly head.”
From this point forward, it would be legal malpractice for an attorney not to cite the chief justice’s remarks in motions where minorities may be a party. Bond motions will reference that prejudices from magistrates “stubbornly persist.” Or, maybe she will be called as a witness to testify at trial that the presumption of innocence has been abandoned.
Post-conviction motions will reference the fact that a defendant’s murder conviction should be overturned because the chief justice believes racism is “stubbornly fixed” in our system. Will judges, juries, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors be browbeaten by her comments, feeling pressure to let violent criminals off the hook because she now believes the system is unfair?
Should Chief Justice Beasley know of individuals wronged by the system, because of their race or any other reason, she should name them, and join their defense attorneys in motions for appropriate relief, or send their names to the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, and immediately call Gov. Cooper and ask that these individuals who are innocent, unfairly judged, or unfairly punished be pardoned or have their sentences commuted.
Also, the chief justice should specifically cite what judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and jurors have acted in illegal and unethical ways to harm defendants. Justice Beasley has a duty to name them so they can be held to account.
In her year as chief justice, and more than seven years on the state’s highest court, what recommendations has she made to the General Assembly to correct these problems?
“If the chief justice sees a problem in the court system, she should take steps to address it, not just criticize the system,” said Jeanette Doran, president and general Counsel at the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law. “She took everyone who works in law enforcement and the courts and everyone who has ever served on a jury and threw them under the bus.”
It is worth noting that the people of North Carolina and her voters comprise the North Carolina judicial system. The voters have recently selected three African-American Justices to the State Supreme Court, including Mrs. Beasley.
Shortly after Chief Justice’s Beasley’s statement in her official role, the statement was sent out through her campaign website, and as noted here was emailed through her campaign.
Later in the week, in State v. Ramseur, the Beasley Supreme Court majority ruled the Republican legislature’s efforts to enforce death penalty verdicts handed down by juries was unconstitutional.
Beasley here nullified GOP efforts to repeal the Democrat authored and supported “Racial Justice Act.”(RJA) Echoing much of the complaints voiced by Beasley, the misnamed Racial Justice Act allows brutal convicted killers sitting on North Carolina’s death row to challenge their death sentences under generic claims of racial biases in parts of the judicial system, but not specifically in their case. Every single death row inmate filed a (RJA) claim, including all white defendants. Critics contend this effort was always a way to end the death penalty in North Carolina under the cloak of race, without ever telling the voters.
Unmentioned in the chief justice’s comments was one of the real tragedies of the justice system: blacks are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. The facts here run counter to the chief justice’s anecdotal statement.
As noted in National Review: In 2017 Homicide-victimization rates for black men were 3.9 times the national average and that 52 percent of all known homicide victims were black. Perpetrators of these crimes were overwhelmingly African Americans. In 2018, where the homicide victim was black, the suspected killer also was 88 percent of the time. And this is not an exceptional situation. From 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by other African Americans.”
But, sadly, the victims of crime remained voiceless in Chief Justice Beasley’s recent comments.
As District Attorney Miller noted, prosecutors, judges and many that serve in North Carolina’s judicial system do so for lower pay and longer hours out of a commitment to colorblind justice and a free civil society.
“Because we love our country. We love our state. And we love the people in our communities and want them to live in a safe environment, where they are free to exist and raise their families. Where they can own a business that is not being ravaged by a criminal element. We do that because we care about justice.”