NC Legislative Black Caucus defends Supreme Court justice’s right to talk about bias in the courts

By: - September 13, 2023 2:49 pm
Justice Anita Earls

Associate Justice Anita Earls Photo: NC Supreme Court

The NC Legislative Black Caucus defended NC Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls on Wednesday, with members saying the investigation into her comments about bias in the judicial system violates her First Amendment rights. 

Earls, the only Black woman on the state’s high court and one of two Democrats, sued the state Judicial Standards Commission in federal court over its investigation into her comments in an interview about the court’s lack of clerks from racial minority groups, the role of implicit bias in interrupting women in the courtroom, and the discontinuation of the state courts’ racial equity and implicit bias training, NC Newsline reported. 

The Judicial Standards Commission investigates complaints against judges and can recommend disciplinary action. 

Earls’ lawsuit says the commission is violating her First Amendment right to free speech. 

Rep. Abe Jones, a Raleigh Democrat and former state Superior Court judge, said Earls has “a positive, bedrock First Amendment right,” to talk about discrimination in the justice system. “We support her.”

Allen Buansi, an Orange County Democrat, said Black lawyers and aspiring Black lawyers in the state see a Black Supreme Court justice being targeted for exercising her right to free speech addressing issues relevant to the legal profession. 

“She’s using her free speech to try to advance us, to advance the legal profession,” he said. 

The 14-member Judicial Standards Commission has six judges appointed by the Chief Justice, four lawyers appointed by the State Bar Council, and four members who are not judges or lawyers appointed by the governor and the legislature. 

The Senate’s version of a new state budget proposes to remove the four lawyers appointed by the State Bar and replace them with four judges appointed by legislative leaders.

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.