In a compelling turn of events, Justice Anita Earls, the sole Black woman serving on the North Carolina Supreme Court and soon to be the only Democrat, has filed a lawsuit against the state’s Judicial Standards Commission. Her bold legal action asserts that the oversight body is infringing upon her First Amendment rights following her candid remarks on the startling lack of diversity within the state’s judicial system. This lawsuit marks a pivotal moment in the career of Justice Earls, who some believe has become a conservative target due to both her identity and her unwavering political stances.
The contentious dispute surrounding Justice Earls commenced in August, stemming from a June interview she granted to the legal website Law 360. During this candid conversation, Earls courageously pointed out the glaring absence of diversity among lawyers, judges, and law clerks in North Carolina’s legal landscape. As reported by Law 360, a study conducted by state Solicitor General Ryan Park revealed that the lawyers appearing before the NC Supreme Court are predominantly 90% white and 70% male. Justice Earls aptly acknowledged the systemic issue, emphasizing that her intention was not to accuse anyone of intentional racial bias. Instead, she argued, “our court system, like any other court system, is made up of human beings, and I believe the research that shows that we all have implicit biases.” She also called attention to the lack of respect exhibited toward female lawyers and judges within the courtroom, recognizing this as part of the problem.
Regrettably, an anonymous complaint was subsequently lodged against Justice Earls, contending that her remarks violated a section of the Code of Judicial Conduct which stipulates that judges must conduct themselves “in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Based on this complaint, the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission initiated a formal investigation into Earls. In a letter dated August 15, the commission asserted that her comments “appear to allege that your Supreme Court colleagues are acting out of racial, gender, and/or political bias in some of their decision making,” as reported by CNN. In response to these actions, Justice Earls has now taken the matter to federal court, arguing that the investigation constitutes a violation of her First Amendment rights after speaking out on the lack of diversity in the court system. In her lawsuit, she firmly contends that the inquiry is impeding her ability to exercise her First Amendment rights through her written work and public speeches.
Throughout American history, Black women have confronted a unique and formidable set of challenges when it comes to standing up for themselves, particularly within the legal profession. Their struggles have been exacerbated by the stark underrepresentation of Black individuals in the legal field, which has persisted for centuries. This lack of representation has not only hindered the pursuit of justice but has also stifled the voices of Black women who have dared to speak out against systemic injustices. From the days of slavery when they were denied basic human rights, to the Civil Rights Movement when they stood on the front lines fighting for equality, Black women have consistently faced suppression and marginalization. The legal industry, often seen as a bastion of justice, has too frequently fallen short in addressing the unique issues and challenges faced by Black women. In this context, Justice Anita Earls’ courageous stance against the glaring lack of diversity in the North Carolina judicial system takes on even greater significance, as she continues the legacy of Black women who have refused to be silenced and are determined to bring about meaningful change.
It’s worth noting that this is not the first time Justice Earls has faced the Judicial Standards Commission’s scrutiny. In March, a different anonymous complaint accused her of disclosing private information about the court’s deliberations, resulting in a reprimand. Interestingly, this March investigation was resurrected when the commission decided to pursue the complaint lodged in August. These developments align with a concerning trend in Republican-controlled states where increasingly aggressive tactics are employed to target Democratic officials, particularly women and people of color.
For instance, in Wisconsin, State Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz is currently under threat of impeachment as she investigates whether the state’s congressional districts have been unfairly gerrymandered to favor Republicans. Similarly, in Tennessee, Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson have faced a range of punitive measures, from expulsion to physical altercations, at the hands of the Republican majority in the state’s legislature.
Justice Earls now finds herself in the crosshairs of what appears to be another contentious battle in a Republican-led state. As she steadfastly defends her rights through this newly filed lawsuit, the nation watches closely to see if the federal government will weigh in on the matter, potentially intervening in this latest chapter of political strife.