Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp

By Anna R. Hayes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
POLITICS AND PUBLIC LIFE

The very idea of a woman judge was almost incomprehensible in 1949, when the vast majority of United States citizens had never seen a female attorney, let alone a female judge. Certainly the citizens of North Carolina had never seen a woman presiding over a courtroom. Unlike a handful of other states, North Carolina did not even have any female justices of the peace or judges of such lesser courts as those with jurisdiction over municipal, county, probate, juvenile, or domestic relations matters. The court reporter or stenographer might be a woman, but a female clerk of court was rare indeed. It had been only three years since North Carolina women acquired the right to serve on a jury, something that in general they remained reluctant to do.

Judgeships were inextricably intertwined with politics, another area in which women were scarce. Then, as now, regular superior court judges were elected, although in practice most judges were initially appointed by the governor to fill a vacancy. Even more political, however, were the special superior court judgeships, appointed by the governor, who had the authority to appoint eight. Unlike regular judges, special judges were not tied strictly to one geographical section but served statewide. Created by the General Assembly in an effort to alleviate chronic courtroom backlogs without the difficulties inherent in redistricting, special judgeships inevitably had become coveted patronage plums.

Old-time politics, not so pure and not so simple, put Susie Sharp on the bench, a position she claimed never to have pursued. Even if the idea had crossed her mind—and it had—there were several reasons why it was not a good career move. Among other considerations, she had deep concerns about her father's health and his ability to carry Sharp & Sharp without her. Moreover, a quick glance around her could provide plenty of reasons not to view a judgeship as a realistic goal, the most persuasive being the resounding absence of women on the bench. But she was irrefutably up to her eyebrows

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