Political drama surrounds N.C. Supreme Court Justice EarlsBy Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / February 4, 2022
N.C. Associate Justice Anita Earls, who will turn 62 later this month, finds herself the center of political attention and drama this week both here in North Carolina, and in the nation’s Capitol.Justice Earls is reportedly on a touted “short list” to become Pres. Joe Biden’s first Black female nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, taking the seat of the retiring U.S. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.
The White House has not formally confirmed that Earls is being considered.
Beyond that speculation, Earls is also one of the four Democrats who lead the 4-3 N.C. Supreme Court majority, and finds herself under partisan Republican attack because she is considering the legality of a new GOP redistricting map that critics charge is “extreme partisan gerrymandering” that dilutes Black voting strength, costing several incumbent African American lawmakers their seats if ratified.
The N.C. NAACP, a plaintiff in one of the consolidated lawsuits against the voting map, filed an amicus brief Monday stating, “The Congressional and Legislative maps enacted in 2021 by the North Carolina General Assembly on their face rise to the level of depriving Black voters in North Carolina of the constitutionally protected right to vote on equal terms as non-Black voters – a right the North Carolina NAACP has fought for valiantly for more than 80 years”.
A three-judge lower Superior Court panel approved the map several weeks ago. The state’s High Court began hearing oral arguments Wednesday. Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a Republican attempt to extend the date for primary elections from May 17 to June 7 in case Justice Earls and the other three Democrats on the High Court rule against the map.
Republican state senators and the conservative press began pouncing on Earls weeks ago in hopes that she would recuse herself from hearing the case because as a civil rights attorney prior to being elected to the bench, Earls successfully fought against previous GOP racial and partisan gerrymandering maps. The GOP has even filed court motions to get her off now.
Earls legally took a $250,000 donation for her 2018 campaign for the N.C. Supreme Court from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“Buying judgeships so partisan activists can use the power of the court to get desired political outcomes destroys the legitimacy of the judiciary,” wrote Sen. Amy Galey (R- Alamance) in a recent scurrilous press release.
In a subsequent release, Galey wrote. “Justice Earls’ conflicts are obvious and egregious. Imagine the outcry if, say, an oil company gave six figures to elect a judge and then brought a suit to overturn environmental regulations before that same judge.”
Sen. Galey neglected, however, to note the alleged conflict of interest of Republican N.C. Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr., who is the son of Republican N.C. Senate Majority leader Phil Berger, who led passage of the redistricting map under review.
If Justice Earls felt the pressure and took herself off from considering the case, that would reduce the voting justices to 3-3, thus allowing the lower Superior Court panel ruling to stand in case of a party line tie vote.
If Justice Berger Jr. recused, the number would drop to 3-2, maintaining a Democratic court majority and dooming the map.
Needless to say, neither Earls nor Berger Jr. has given any indication that they’re going anywhere.
To add insult to injury, Republican legislative leaders have floated a veiled threat in the conservative press to impeach Justice Earls.
A Raleigh News and Observer editorial stated, “That Republican lawmakers want to unfairly skew elections isn’t a surprise. But their campaign to bully a justice before a verdict or even a hearing is unexpected and disgraceful.”
For her part, Justice Earls has ignored the Republican threats, but did say she was ’honored’ to be on a recognized short list to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
Observers say that given Justice Earls’ competition, she is a long shot, at best.