In addressing the investiture of Cheri Beasley as the North Carolina Supreme Court’s first African-American female chief justice, McGuireWoods lawyer Jocelyn Mitnaul Mallette noted the historic moment as “changing everyone’s perspective of what the norm is.”
Mallette, president of the Capital City Lawyers Association and second vice president of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, recalled her experience as a clerk to former state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson. In quiet moments before the court would hear arguments, Mallette said, she would gaze around the courtroom at portraits of past chief justices.
“I realized that all of them looked quite similar, not only because of their race but also because of their gender,” said Mallette, a Raleigh associate in McGuireWoods’ Products, Environmental & Mass Torts Litigation Department. “So today, as I walked into this courtroom, it hit me that the view is about to change.”
“For the first time in its 200-year history, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has an African-American woman sitting in the seat of the chief justice, and that means that for the first time I am able to see a chief justice of our state’s highest court who looks like me.”
But the occasion means so much more than that, she added. “It’s about elementary school students of all races who come to this court for field trips. It’s about the female and male attorneys who stand at this podium and argue before this court. It’s about changing everyone’s perspective of what the norm is, of what the chief justice is supposed to look like. So now, at some point in the future, a portrait that looks very different from all the others will finally have a place in this courtroom,” she said.
Mallette, a former U.S. Air Force captain and former attorney in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, closed her remarks by turning to Beasley and thanking her for inspiring and mentoring young North Carolinians. They embraced as applause filled the courtroom.