News

A monument to slavery hangs over NC’s highest court

NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer via USA TODAY NETWORK

There is perhaps no clearer symbol of slavery’s lingering influence on the death penalty than the portrait that looms over the North Carolina Supreme Court, whose seven justices must review every death sentence.

The courtroom is filled with portraits of former chief justices, but the painting of North Carolina’s third chief justice, Thomas Ruffin, is three times as large as the rest and occupies a place of honor directly behind the bench.

Ruffin served as chief justice from 1833 to 1852. He distinguished himself not only as a cruel slaver whose overseers burned enslaved people and rubbed salt and pepper into their wounds, but as the author of one of the nation’s most extreme pro-slavery decisions.

In the 1829 case State v. Mann, Ruffin held that a slave owner could not be prosecuted for shooting an enslaved woman because “the power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect.” This precedent-setting decision had horrific consequences for enslaved people.

The power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect.

Statues of Ruffin have recently been removed from the N.C. Court of Appeals and other courthouses around the state, but his portrait remains in the Supreme Court. When court is in session, Ruffin’s stern expression is aimed toward Cheri Beasley, North Carolina’s first African-American chief justice.

Read an essay on Ruffin’s legacy  by scholars Eric Muller and Sally Greene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

For Native Americans, first genocide then the death penalty

[Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

Wallace Cheves, whose previous legal troubles include millions in civil fines, used this money to cl [...]

Company proposes to process old railroad ties in low-income Richmond County locale already burdened [...]

WASHINGTON — After the Republican National Convention pulled out of Charlotte earlier this year due [...]

[Editor's note: As a part of an ongoing effort to help North Carolina voters become better info [...]

In the rush to replace Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court, we’ve heard [...]

The post The Plans… appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]

If the Trump Administration and a group of 18 states convince the Supreme Court to strike down the A [...]

In the 16 years I’ve lived in this exact spot, I’ve been no stranger to disaster. It’s been two year [...]