RALEIGH (August 30, 2023) — Southern Coalition for Social Justice is alarmed at the allegations unveiled in North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls’ recent lawsuit against the Judicial Standards Commission for violating her First Amendment Rights and is disturbed by what appears to be a yet another systemic attack on a Black elected official in the South.
Earls — who was the founder of SCSJ and formerly served as the organization’s first Executive Director — filed the lawsuit on Aug. 29, stating the Commission initiated a baseless and unconstitutional investigation against her for comments she made in an interview about diversity on the North Carolina Supreme Court and those who argue before it. In the interview, Earls, who is the only Black female member of the Court, pointed to issues such as the lack of minority judicial clerks, consistent interrupting of female advocates and even herself during oral arguments, and the discontinuance of implicit bias training in North Carolina courts.
“The attacks on Justice Earls are the latest iteration of attacks on Black elected officials who seek to ensure that systems of government are fair and equitable for all people,” said Mitchell Brown, Senior Counsel for Voting Rights and SOLVE Network Coordinator. “This specious investigation quite literally seeks to silence a sitting Justice from sharing her well-informed and well-considered views about important public policy issues and the operation of our entire judicial system, and it threatens to silence dissent across the board if the views expressed do not align with ideology of a certain group of people who are in control.”
Black officials are still systematically underrepresented at all levels of government, and even when they’re able to overcome the barriers to being elected, they still face smear campaigns and relentless bad faith challenges to the legitimacy of their duly-elected office. There have been reported attacks of this sort on Black elected officials just this year in Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, and now North Carolina.
These attacks go hand-in-hand with other efforts across the South by extreme politicians to whitewash history by banning instruction on the role of slavery in our nation’s origin story and the lasting effects of racism today; to keep Black and Brown communities from the ballot box with new and evolved voter suppression tactics; and generally to revert to an America that only serves the white majority by attacking anyone who thinks, acts, or looks different through legislation, such as recent bills targeting trans and gay rights.
The Judicial Standards Commission, which investigates reports of misconduct of justices and judges, claims Earls’ comments may have violated the Judicial Code of Conduct requiring judges to conduct themselves “in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Based on her filed complaint, this “investigation” is nothing but a ruse, selectively attempting to prevent Earls and other judges from voicing sincere criticisms of the judicial system. The undermining of free speech and efforts to improve representation and diversity in the courts are the real issues undermining public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The issues of race and gender, not only in the courts or legal profession, but in our broader society, require open discussion and engagement in order for us to find a solution.
Southern Coalition for Social Justice, founded in 2007, partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing and communications. Learn more at southerncoalition.org and follow our work on Twitter and Facebook.