At a largely virtual investiture ceremony broadcast this morning on the Supreme Court’s Youtube page, The Honorable Paul Martin Newby took the oath of office to become our highest court’s 30th Chief Justice.  Newly minted Justices Phil Berger, Jr. and Tamara Barringer were also sworn in as the two junior-most associate justices on the Court.

As Beth noted last week, it is common for incoming jurists to take the oath on January 1, but then participate in a more formal investiture ceremony several days later.

In his remarks today, Chief Justice Newby emphasized that his “polar star” is the constitution, citing in particular the “open courts” and “law of the land” clauses residing in Article I, Sections 18 and 19 of our state constitution.  The Chief identified the tension between the mandate for open courts and the sprawling global—and local—pandemic as the “great stress of our times.”

His Honor shared that he had asked the Governor to prioritize the vaccination of courthouse personnel to help the judiciary fulfill its constitutional open-courts directive.  If I’m reading the NCDHHS guidance correctly, legal personnel are currently scheduled to be vaccinated in Phase 2, Group 4 (“Essential workers not yet vaccinated”), which could be a long way off.  I applaud the Chief’s push for courthouse personnel to be vaccinated sooner than that.  While many lawyers have enjoyed the luxury of working from home over the past several months, many courthouse personnel have not had that option.

In a clever use of technology, the ceremony also included a mockup of where each justice would have been sitting, had the investiture been held in person like usual.  The relative position of the justices is, of course, set by seniority.  Here’s the new lineup, from left to right as you face the bench:  Berger—Morgan—Hudson—Newby—Ervin—Earls—Barringer.

Still, there’s nothing like being there in person.  Chief Justice Newby promised there’d be another non-virtual celebration—just as soon as it is safe.

Congratulations again to Chief Justice Newby and Associate Justices Berger and Barringer.

–Matt Leerberg