As the North Carolina Supreme Court’s first Black female chief justice, Cheri Beasley is aiming to make history again, this time as the first Black U.S. senator from the state of North Carolina. A longtime judge in the Tar Heel State, Beasley first began her judicial career as a state district court judge in 1999.
In the open race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Beasley faces U.S. Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021, and has yet to commit to accepting the upcoming results of this year’s elections. In Democracy Docket’s final candidate Q&A of the 2022 cycle, U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley outlines how her time on the bench will influence her work in the Senate, discusses the state’s ongoing redistricting process and stays neutral in the long-standing east-west barbecue debate.
Responses have been edited to style and clarity.
If elected to the U.S. Senate, how would you use your position to protect the right to vote nationwide and what are three “must-have” provisions you’d include in a federal voting rights bill and why?
There is no question that our right to vote is under attack. It was 57 years ago that my mother accessed the right to vote because of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed with bipartisan support. Now, a wave of states across the nation, including North Carolina, are working to make it harder to vote and Republicans in the Senate are refusing to even allow debate on legislation to protect voting rights.
That’s got to change. In the Senate, I’ll fight tirelessly to pass federal legislation to protect the right to vote, prevent gerrymandering, get dark money out of politics and ensure free and fair elections. As a judge, I’ve spent over two decades upholding the U.S. Constitution and protecting our rights and I’ll do the same in the U.S. Senate.
This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Moore v. Harper, a redistricting case out of North Carolina that opens up review of the independent state legislature theory. What do you make of this theory and what do you hope is the outcome of this case?
This is one of the most alarming cases the Supreme Court has taken on this term. It is shameful that Republican politicians from North Carolina are advancing this fringe legal theory — all with the goal of amassing unchecked power to silence voters in North Carolina. Checks and balances between our branches of government are a foundational tenet of both the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions. I am astonished that politicians here would call into question such an essential element of American democracy.
This is also a reminder of how much is at stake in this election. My opponent not only voted to interfere with the 2020 election results, he’s even now refusing to commit to accepting the results of the midterms. We need to elect senators who will follow the rule of law and uphold the U.S. Constitution — and I’m the only candidate in this race who will do that
. Speaking of redistricting, it’s been a year of map drawing in North Carolina and the state still doesn’t have a congressional map for 2024 and beyond. Why do you think North Carolina is such a hotbed of gerrymandering and what would you do to change it?
Elected officials in the General Assembly are so desperate to stay in power that they are slicing and dicing our maps for their political gain and disenfranchising voters. People who live in rural communities and Black and brown people are more likely to be disenfranchised because of illegal gerrymandering. It isn’t right and North Carolina voters deserve better. It’s been a long time since North Carolina had a senator who will stand up for what is right. It’s time for that to change, and as North Carolina’s U.S. senator, I will fight tirelessly to pass federal legislation to protect the right to vote, including preventing gerrymandering, and ensure free and fair elections.
How will your experience serving on the North Carolina Supreme Court for nearly a decade, as well as leading the court as chief justice, influence your work in the Senate and what insights about the role of courts and the justice system do you hope to bring to Congress?
I’ve served the state for more than two decades — and I understand how our laws work, and how they don’t. As a judge and chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, I always did the job I pledged to do: to uphold the Constitution and protect our rights.
What we need more than ever are senators who stand up for our constitutional rights and that’s what I will do as I have throughout my decades of service. But we know we can’t trust Budd to do that. He has voted against our constitutional rights and supports taking away our freedom to make decisions for our families, including supporting a total ban on abortion. As chief justice, I took action to keep communities safe and strengthen our communities — from creating a human trafficking court to support victims and hold traffickers accountable to establishing paid family leave to help people take care of their families and be successful at their jobs. I took my oath to fairly apply the rule of law and uphold the Constitution seriously. I’ve always led with integrity, honesty and justice — and I’ll bring those values with me to the U.S. Senate.
Although he has since acknowledged President Joe Biden as “the legitimate president,” your opponent, Budd, voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021. What do you make of his vote and why do you think the “Big Lie” is so resonant with Republicans in your state and nationwide?
Budd has made a career out of undermining our democracy, so I’m not surprised that he voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election. Not only did he vote against the certification of the presidential election, he also called the Jan. 6 insurrection “just patriots standing up” and has refused to say whether or not he will accept the results of this Senate election.
That’s dangerous and wrong for North Carolina. North Carolianians deserve a leader who will support their constitutional rights and our democracy — and not just when it’s politically expedient. In the Senate, I’ll stand up for our Constitution and our rights as I always have.
The North Carolina Election Integrity Team is encouraging individuals to challenge other voters’ eligibility, an increasing trend among Republicans this year. What impact do you think voter challenges will have on this year’s elections?
North Carolinians are resilient. As Republican elected officials work to make voting harder, that just means we have to fight harder. As they work to silence us, we have to speak up louder because there is too much at stake and too many people are struggling in North Carolina — from rising costs, to attacks on our rights and good-paying jobs and more. We must have voter protection volunteers on hand and robust voter education so that intimidation and other illegal means to deter voting are stopped.
We have work to do — and I’m fully committed to doing my part to make sure North Carolinians make their voices heard in this election.
Go-to walk up song? Break My Soul by Beyoncé.
Most underrated fact about North Carolina?
North Carolina’s state motto is “esse quam videri,” which means “to be, rather than to seem.” North Carolinians are resilient, authentic, tough people who deserve a senator who will do what’s right, call out what’s wrong and lead courageously. Those are the North Carolina values I will take to the U.S. Senate.