North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby is personally behind the effort to investigate a fellow Supreme Court justice who spoke out against racial and gender biases within the state court system, a Democratic lawmaker claimed earlier this month, WRAL reported.
Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, the only Black person currently on the court, was put under investigation in August after making the comments during an interview when she was asked about a study of advocates who argued at the Supreme Court, Slate reported. According to the study, 90% of the lawyers were white and nearly 70% were male. Earls was asked for her response and she told the media that there’s a lack of racial diversity among the court’s clerks and her colleagues treat certain advocates at oral argument far differently than they do others.
According to Slate, Earls even went out of her way to say that she didn’t think these issues were because of conscious bias, but “we all have implicit biases.” She then criticized Newby for getting rid of the court’s implicit bias training and for disbanding commissions looking into racial justice issues.
Earls is suing to stop the investigation on the basis that it violates her First Amendment rights. Her lawsuit claims that she was accused of violating a rule for judges against “impugning the integrity of the courts.”
The identity of the who ordered the investigation into Earls is a secret, but according to Rep. Abe Jones (D-Raleigh), who served as a judge for nearly two decades, Newby is the person behind it.
WRAL reached out to Newby, the court system and the North Carolina Republican Party. None of those requests for comment were answered.
When asked how he’s so sure that Newby is behind the investigation – since the court system isn’t allowed to publicly identify whoever filed the complaints – Jones told the media that he had a source but he wouldn’t identify them. “Rest assured: What I told you is accurate,” he said.
Jones and three dozen other Black state lawmakers and supporters gathered at the legislature earlier this month to say that they know exactly why Earls is under investigation: Right-wing Republicans are trying to make an example out of one of North Carolina’s most powerful judges in order to frighten other lawyers and judges away from taking on systemic racism in a state with a long, shameful history of it.
“When folks in the public see that she’s being targeted because of that, think about what that does to a person,” said Rep. Allen Buansi, a Chapel Hill Democrat and attorney. “I can easily see a situation in which, as a result of what’s been done to Justice Earls, a Black lawyer or lawyer of color goes to court — and they think twice about something they say on behalf of their client.”
The potential outcomes of the investigation could range from no action being taken at all against Earls all the way up to her removal and permanent banning from the court.
“This is a political hit job on Justice Earls,” Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, a Charlotte Democrat and former public defender.
Newby is also no stranger to criticizing judges himself, as Jones pointed out.
In 2019 when Newby was the only Republican on the Supreme Court, he gave a speech calling the other justices “far-left political activists.” He also specifically singled out Earls, telling the audience that her election to the court had worried him so much that he lost sleep over it. Earls was a well-known civil rights attorney before she was elected to the high court.
“He makes comments about political things,” Jones said of Newby. “No one tries to stop him. So why does he want to stop her?”