Media Contact

Keisha Williams, [email protected]

September 6, 2023

RALEIGH - Last week, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita S. Earls filed a lawsuit against the Judicial Standards Commission to defend “her First Amendment rights to speak on the subject of lack of diversity in our state’s courts.” 

In a June interview in Law360, Justice Earls addressed topics including the decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to disband the Commission on Fairness and Equity, her observations that female advocates experienced more frequent interruptions during oral arguments, the underrepresentation of racial minority groups among the Court’s judicial clerks and the lawyers that argue before the court, and the discontinuance of racial equity and implicit bias training within the North Carolina court system. 

The lawsuit alleges that the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission, which was established to consider complaints against judges and make recommendations for discipline, launched an investigation into Justice Earls claiming that some of her comments in the Law360 interview violate Canon 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct which requires a judge to conduct herself “at all times in a manner which promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” 

ACLU of North Carolina’s Executive Director Chantal Stevens shared the following statement:   

“This attempt to silence Justice Earls comes amid a larger attempt to limit discussion about race – in the hiring and training of state employees and in classrooms across the state. Further, there are ongoing discussions in the legislature to shift control of the Judicial Standards Commission to the legislature, making it partisan in nature and more prone to political attacks. This context makes the singling out and attack on the sole Black woman Justice on the bench all the more troubling. It is especially important to vigorously safeguard her First Amendment rights when she speaks out on the lack of diversity in our courts. There should be robust protection for judges who exercise their First Amendment rights to raise matters that are of substantial public concern.”   

As a public-serving legal institution, the Judicial Standards Commission has a responsibility to not perpetuate inequality and suppression of First Amendment rights. The commission’s intrusive investigation into Justice Earls raises concerns about targeting an individual justice for political reasons and has shaken public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and those who dictate its professional code.