The Cherokee Supreme Court is saddened to report that the Honorable Harry Corpening Martin, first Chief Justice of the Cherokee Supreme Court, and a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, died on Sunday, May 3, 2015 at age 95. Chief Justice Martin led the Court from its creation on April 1, 2000 until his retirement in December 2006 and continued to serve as an Emergency Judge thereafter.
Chief Justice Bill Boyum said, “The entire Cherokee Court community and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is saddened to hear of the passing of the courts first Chief Justice Harry C. Martin. Chief Justice Martin took a fledgling tribal court and made it the shining star it is today. His leadership through the early years of the court will be felt for many generations to come and he will be missed by all the court and members of the Tribe who had come to know him over the years.”
Justice Brenda Toineeta-Pipestem said, “As our first [modern] Chief Justice, Harry Martin believed in Eastern Band of Cherokee sovereignty and was instrumental in building the institution of the Cherokee Supreme Court. As a former North Carolina Chief Justice, he understood the relationship between the State, the Eastern Band, and the law. His knowledge of this relationship and his personal commitment to the Cherokee people showed in his work for our Court. It was an honor to serve on the Court with him, and a blessing to be mentored by him. May God Bless his family.”
Justice Martin was born at home in Lenoir on Jan. 13, 1920 to Hal and Johnsie Martin. He is preceded in death by his parents, his brothers, Jacob and Charles; two of his sisters, Mary Macon and Virginia; and a daughter, Nancy. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Nancy D. Martin; his children, John, of the home, Mary, of Venice, Italy, and Matthew and his wife, Catherine, of Cleveland, Ohio, a grandchild, Clarke, of Chapel Hill, and his sister, Lida M. Starnes, of Asheville.
As a teenager, Justice Martin was a member of the renowned Lenoir High School Band, and he performed with the band for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Asheville. Following graduation from his beloved University of North Carolina in 1942, he served in the 13th Jungle Air Force during WWII, seeing combat action in the Solomon Islands campaign, as well as at Guadalcanal and Saipan.
Following the war, Justice Martin was a member of the famous class of 1948 of Harvard Law School. He began the private practice of law in Asheville, first as a sole practitioner, and then as a member of the highly regarded firm of Gudger, Elmore & Martin. In 1963, Governor Terry Sanford appointed him to the bench as a Special Superior Court Judge. Subsequently, Governor Dan K. Moore appointed him to be a Resident Superior Court Judge. He was retained by election by the people more than once. In 1978, Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., appointed him to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and, in 1982, Governor Hunt appointed him to the Supreme Court of North Carolina, where he was also elected by the people and served until his mandatory retirement at age 72.
On the Supreme Court, Justice Martin was known as “the conscience of the Court,” and his opinions on such issues as domestic violence, workers compensation, shareholder rights, public employment, search and seizure, and state constitutional law were considered to be ahead of their time. He often had to wait to see a dissenting opinion of his turn into the majority view of the Court.
After he retired from the Supreme Court, Justice Martin practiced law with his two sons in Hillsborough and served as the first Dan K. Moore Visiting Professor of Law at the UNC School of Law, continuing a teaching career that began while he was on the Supreme Court, and during which he taught a generation of leaders at Carolina, Duke and Elon the subjects of public policy, state constitutional law, the judicial process, and federal Indian law. He also became the first Chief Circuit Mediator for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, creating the position and assisting that Court in managing its burgeoning caseload.
In Cherokee, Chief Justice Martin helped to establish the judicial branch of Tribal government at the very forefront of respected Tribal Courts. Through his efforts, North Carolina granted Tribal Court Orders full faith and credit, cementing ties between the two systems. His opinion on the criminal jurisdiction of the Tribal Court in EBCI v. Torres remains widely cited in prominent federal Indian law textbooks.
His accomplishments on behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians led the Tribal Council to make him an Honorary Member of the Tribe upon his retirement. He received numerous additional awards during his lifetime, including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, bestowed upon him by Governor Hunt, the North Carolina Bar Association’s Liberty Bell and John J. Parker Awards, the UNC Distinguished Alumnus Award and the American Bar Association’s Franklin N. Flaschner Award as the nation’s outstanding specialized Court Judge.
Justice Martin’s funeral will be held at the All Souls Cathedral in Biltmore Village at 10:30am on Saturday, May 9. In lieu of flowers, the family would request that any donations be made to: the All Souls Cathedral Building fund, the UNC School of Law or to Care Partners Hospice in Asheville.