Virginia swears in Southampton native as second African American chief justice of Supreme Court

Published 3:39 pm Thursday, June 9, 2022

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By Faith Redd

Staff Writer

RICHMOND – The courthouse shook from the cheers at the investiture congratulating the new chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Samuel Bernard Goodwyn, a Southampton County native, was installed at the Richmond Supreme Court Building on June 8, becoming the second African American to serve as chief justice.

Family, friends and citizens of the commonwealth filled the pews quickly, sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Phillip Buchanan and his wife drove from North Carolina to attend the ceremony. The couple has been to many of Goodwyn’s investiture ceremonies.

Buchanan and Goodwyn have been acquainted since the 1980s. Goodwyn has always been the same person he is today, Buchanan said. He believes Goodwyn will bring reason and well thought out opinions as the new chief justice.

“I think he’ll be a justice for all the people,” Buchanan said.

Remarks were given by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert and Goodwyn himself. Each speaker spoke highly of the new chief justice and his accomplishments throughout his career. They congratulated him and sent well wishes on his new journey.

Sharon Goodwyn held the Bible as Justice Cleo E. Powell swore in her husband. His children, Sarah and Samuel, stood with him.

Eileen A. Olds is a retired judge from Chesapeake. She and Goodwyn both began their judicial careers weeks apart, she said.

“I have no doubt that the new chief justice at the helm of the Virginia court system is in excellent hands,” Olds said.

She described the ceremony as monumental and expressed her excitement for the new chief justice. She believes Goodwyn is of upstanding legal and moral character.

Goodwyn graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and obtained his law degree at University of Virginia. He then went on to practice law and furthered his career to the courts.

He served as a district court judge for 10 years and a circuit court judge for two years in Chesapeake, where he resides.

Goodwyn was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Tim Kaine in 2007. He was unanimously elected by the General Assembly to the Supreme Court in 2008 and was reelected in 2020.

Donald W. Lemons served as chief justice for seven years preceding Goodwyn. His current term was set to expire in 2024.

The Virginia Supreme Court is made up of seven justices, each elected by a majority vote of the General Assembly in both houses for a term of 12 years, according to Virginia Courts. The chief justice is chosen by a vote of the seven justices for a term of four years. There is no required limit to the number of four-year terms a chief justice may be elected, but the court has said the justices internally adopted a two-term limit.

Former law clerks of Goodwyn were moved by the ceremony. They described Goodwyn as dedicated and a man with a heart of service.

“No doubt he will excel in this role,” said Cara Cotter, Goodwyn’s former law clerk.