A Black North Carolina Supreme Court Justice is pursuing legal action against the state’s Judicial Standards Commission, a board that looks into misconduct complaints against judges, because she is facing potential disciplinary action for making remarks about the system.
The federal lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in North Carolina on Tuesday, Aug. 29, NC Newsline reported. State Supreme Court justice Anita Earls is alleging that the commission violated her First Amendment rights to free speech by opening a probe after she publicly spoke about the “lack of diversity in our state’s courts,” per the lawsuit obtained by Atlanta Black Star.
It comes after Earls, the sole Black female Supreme Court justice in the state, participated in an interview with Law360 in June, according to WTVD.
“In that interview, Justice Earls discussed matters such as the decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to disband the Commission on Fairness and Equity, the Court’s lack of judicial clerks from racial minority groups, the implicit bias associated with the interrupting of female advocates (and even herself as an African American female justice) during oral argument, and the discontinuance of racial equity and implicit bias training in the North Carolina court,” her filing states.
The complaint says Earls has been “subjected to months-long intrusive investigations,” adding that her comments are “fully protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as core political speech.”
Earlier this month, Earls received a notice from the commission stating that the interview appears “to allege that your Supreme Court colleagues are acting out of racial, gender, and/or political bias in some of their decision making.” It says her comments may be in violation of a provision of state code of judicial conduct, which underscores that judges should act in a way that “promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Per the lawsuit, she previously got a notice in March for a separate matter after the commission received a complaint claiming that she spoke about issues that were being deliberated in the Supreme Court. However, the documents say it was dismissed months later.
Advocates rallied to support Earls, raising the alarm that officials are attempting to push her out of her position, local news reported.
“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,” Dawn Blagrove of Emancipate NC told WTVD.
Earls’ lawsuit seeks an injunction to restrict the board from “continuing to chill” her right to comment on matters of public interest, per court documents.