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Support Swells for embattled High Court Justice Anita Earls

By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / September 8, 2023

North Carolina Associate Justice Anita Earls

No sooner did North Carolina Associate Justice Anita Earls charge that she was being targeted for challenging the lack of diversity at the Republican-majority state Supreme Court, and thus was taking the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission to federal court to stop its investigation of her, than supporters from the legislative, legal, and civil rights communities stepped forward to speak out on her behalf.

“[Justice Earls] is only being investigated because she has the audacity to speak about racism and sexism in North Carolina’s criminal justice system,” state Rep. Renee Price (D-Orange County) told reporters during a press conference at the state legislature August 30th.

Dawn Blagrove of Emancipate NC said that the alleged targeting of Justice Earls was not only an attempt to remove her from office, but a “broad, Republican-backed effort to silence Black people.”

“We are currently under a regime that is dead set on taking us back to Jim Crow,” Blagrove said.

Marcus Bass, who leads the group, Advance North Carolina, echoed that charge, saying, “What we are seeing right now take place is the literal pulling back of North Carolina, to a hundred year-old attempt to remove Black individuals from elected office.”

When she filed her federal complaint last week, Justice Earls said in a statement, “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. 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.”

If one wanted evidence of just how Justice Earls is viewed by at least one of her Republican colleagues on the High Court, The Carolina Journal reported how in a recent split decision by the Republican-led state Supreme Court, while Earls (along with outgoing Democratic Justice Mike Morgan) noted that the decision by the five Republicans on the court “hurt the integrity of our justice system and our citizens’ faith in it,” Republican Justice Richard Dietz immediately personally attacked Earls, writing “Once again, this Court enters a routine order that draws an exaggerated, hyperbolic dissent from one of my colleagues.”

“My colleague accuses the majority of seeking ‘power’ over reason, of engaging in a ‘radically destabilizing shift,’ of attempting to ‘brazenly warp the law,’ and on and on…Like so many of my colleague’s dissents, this one has portions that read more like pulp fiction than a legal opinion.”

Justice Dietz then added, “One can reasonably disagree with our approach, but to claim that our decision comes ‘at the cost of the integrity of our justice system and our citizens’ faith in it’ is a bit unhinged.”

A spokesperson for GOP Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger, whose son, Phil Berger Jr., serves on the state Supreme Court with Earls, dismissed the charges of racism leveled at the Judicial Standards Commission.

Justice Earls has served on the state Supreme Court since she was elected to it in 2018 by 1.8 million votes statewide. When she took her seat, Republican colleague/now Chief Justice Paul Newby greeted her with a public statement that her election kept him up at night.

The reason for that was Earls’ outstanding record as a progressive civil rights attorney, successfully challenging unconstitutional voter ID laws and redistricting voting maps from the GOP-led legislature.

Earls began speaking out recently about the lack of diversity among court clerks who serve the justices, and the lack of both racial and gender diversity of the attorneys who argue before the court.

She also revealed how her Republican colleagues would disrespect women attorneys who come before the court, and even cut her off during remarks.

Earls criticized Chief Justice Newby for ending implicit bias training at the court, telling her that it was not needed.

The Judicial Standards Commission has the power to either slap Justice Earls on the wrist for speaking out, or remove her from her elected seat altogether for allegedly violating judicial ethics rules.

The commission keeps who filed the complaint about Earls a secret. This is the second time this year that it has investigated her for an alleged infraction. The first time was dismissed.

If the commission confirms the latest complaint against Justice Earls, it would be up to her Republican colleagues on the court whether to punish her or not, and how.

Judicial Standards Commission Executive Director Brittany Pinkham has said in a statement that it cannot comment on pending investigations, but maintained that it is nonpartisan.

The NC Black Alliance issued a statement defending Justice Earls, saying, “There is an agenda, and Black and Brown voices are not on it. Their stories are stifled with Critical Race Theory legislation and fear-based tactics to remove them from our history. The NC Black Alliance stands in solidarity with Justice Anita Earls to publicly speak on her experiences of racism and sexism without retribution from her White colleagues.”


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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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