Source: Editorial Staff
In less than a decade, Republican politicians across several states, including in North Carolina, have led efforts to transform state supreme courts in their favor. In recent years, North Carolina Republicans have injected partisan politics into the judicial system; passing laws that would undermine the court’s impartiality, and place judges on the bench that will adhere to their bidding.
Last year, state Republican leaders repeatedly threatened to impeach justices who do not rule in their favor, with Justice Paul Newby removing Judge Lee from overseeing the state’s longest-running education funding case in favor of his Republican colleague.
Their latest targeting effort comes through the silencing of the state Supreme Court’s only Black woman justice, Anita Earls.
The Judicial Standards Commission, which has been reshaped by GOP judges in recent years, launched an investigation on Justice Earls – alleging that Justice Earls’ concerns about the lack of diversity in the courtroom may violate judicial ethics rules.
Late last month, Justice Anita Earls filed a lawsuit against the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission after it opened its investigation into her comments on diversity in the state court system.
The comments, in question, come from a June interview for an online article in Law 360 in which Justice Earls discussed the lack of diversity among the court clerks.
According to a study published by the N.C. Bar Association, more than 72 percent of advocates before the court in 2021 and 2022 were men, and more than 91 percent were white — both more than 20 percent higher than the state population.
Justice Earls argued in the lawsuit that her comments on diversity are protected as political speech under the First Amendment.
“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,” stated Marcus Bass, the executive director of Advance Carolina, during a press conference on conservative’s latest attack.
Black legal experts and politicians have raised alarms over the latest attempt by Republicans to remove Justice Earls from office – highlighting the GOP’s blatant effort to silence Black North Carolinians and politicians with recent bills and laws.
“What we know is that the (judicial complaint) process is being bastardized in an effort to silence Black and brown people. And in this case, particularly, Justice Earls,” stated Dawn Blagrove, attorney and executive director of Emancipate NC.
Historically, under Paul Newby’s leadership, his administration has removed anyone who stood in the way of the GOP’s agenda; removing the head of the Judicial Standards Commission who attempted to stop their effort to bend ethics rules and eliminated campaign finance restrictions for judicial candidates.
“We are currently under a regime that is dead set on taking us back to Jim Crow,” stated Blagrove.
The investigation from the Judicial Standards Commission is highly unusual. According to The New York Times, fewer than four percent of complaints to the commission resulted in formal investigations last year.
The latest example from Republicans to exert their unchecked power is part of a troubling pattern of weaponized politicization of our judicial system.