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Justice Earls files federal lawsuit to stop ‘improper investigation’

By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / August 30, 2023

Associate Justice Anita Earls speaking at an MLK event last January.

Associate Justice Anita Earls, the only African American woman on the N.C. Supreme Court, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, alleging that she is being “improperly investigated” by the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission (JSC) because she told a legal magazine that the state’s High Court had a problem with diversity on its staff.

Justice Earls, also one of two Black Democrats on the court until her colleague, Associate Justice Mike Morgan steps down next week, alleges that the JSC is trying to silence her with the investigation.

She calls it “clearly unconstitutional.”

“The First Amendment provides me and every American the right to free speech and to bring to light imperfections and unfairness in our political and judicial systems,” Earls said in a statement through her attorney, Pressly Millen of Womble, Bond, Dickerson LLP.

“I believe that public confidence in the judiciary is best promoted by honestly looking at the facts, not by sweeping the truth under the rug or silencing dissenters.”

It’s no secret that Justice Earls has been a political target of even some of her Republican colleagues on the court, especially given her previous record as an outspoken civil rights attorney.

According to published reports, Justice Earls was notified on August 15th that she faced an investigation about her remarks in an article appearing in the legal online publication Law360 on June 20th titled “North Carolina Justice Anita Earls Opens up About Diversity.”

The very first sentence of the article states, “in an interview with Law360, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls discusses what’s behind a glaring lack of diversity on the state’s appellate bench and among advocates who argue before her court…”

Ironically, the JSC apparently doesn’t read North Carolina’s Black Press, because Black newspapers in Greensboro, Charlotte and other markets across the state published a story about remarks Justice Earls made to those attending the MLK Weekend Celebration Breakfast on January 14th at St. Mary’s FWB Church in Apex.

As the Black Press reported, Earls told the gathering “…that currently, when it comes to recruiting and hiring court clerks of color, there are no African American law clerks, “ and that was with “…anywhere from 15-18 clerks working for the state Supreme Court presently.

“Being a clerk, Earls said, can be a gateway to higher positions of service in the legal community,” the story continued. “But if people of color are not properly represented, that has real implications for our profession.”

She also shared how an internal diversity committee that she participated in last year was disbanded recently. When she asked why, Earls says she was told there was no need for it, and what purpose did it serve.

Then she said she was told it was more important to “hire the most qualified people” for the state judiciary.

Cash Michaels covers state news with the Carolina Peacemaker. He is based in Cary, N.C.


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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