EARLS SAYS STATE SUPREME
COURT “IS NOT OPENING UP
By Cash Michaels
One of two African American Democrats on the N.C. Supreme Court warned an MLK holiday weekend audience Saturday that citizens should be concerned about problems of racial disparity in the state’s criminal justice system, and challenged them “…to be willing to not be silent.”
Anita Earls, associate justice of the state High Court and former civil rights attorney, was also critical of the judicial body she’s served on for the past four years, saying that currently, when it comes to recruiting and hiring court clerks of color, there are no African-American law clerks.
Earls told those attending the MLK Weekend Celebration Breakfast January 14th at St. Mary’s FWB Church in Apex that there are anywhere from 15-18 clerks working for the state Supreme Court presently.
According to the UNC School of Law website, judicial clerkships are “one-to two-year paid, post graduate positions with federal, state and some local judges.” They can be hired by an individual judge, or be part of a pool for all judges in a court. Their duties include drafting legal analyses, opinions and orders from the court, as well as doing the legal research required.
Being a clerk, Earls said, can be a gateway to higher positions of service in the legal community. But if people of color are not properly represented, “that has real implications for our profession.”
She also shared how an internal diversity committee that she participated in last year was disbanded recently. When she asked why, Earls says she was told there was no need for it, and what purpose did it serve.
Then she said she was told it was more important to “hire the most qualified people” for the state judiciary.
Associate Justice Earls credited Gov. Roy Cooper with finding qualified professionals of color to serve in the state’s judiciary. She said 40 percent of the people he has pointed to the bench have been people of color.
“So we know that this potential is out there, and we know that there is more to be done to make our institutions more representative,’ she said.
Regarding North Carolina’s criminal cases, Justice Earls reminded all the she co-chairs the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity, which has been tasked to examine the state’s criminal justice system and indicate where there are racial disparities in carrying out equal justice.
She confirmed that there are disparities in the system's outcomes.
There were over a million misdemeanors annually in North Carolina, of which six percent were violent. Traffic offenses made up three quarters of all misdemeanor cases in the state. One out of seven driving age individuals have had their license suspended.
Over 827,000 have been cited for failure to come to court when required. Over 263,000 have been cited for failure to pay traffic fines
Justice Earls said a lot of these court cases involve people of color who cannot afford the cost of court when they are stopped for minor offenses. When they fail to comply with the court, they ultimately lose their driver’s license, restricting their legal ability to operate a vehicle. Without that, they can’t work, can’t make medical appointments, etc.
When it comes to felony offenses, Earls said unfortunately there is a racial disparity in sentencing. 91.5% of the children under the age of 18 in the NC criminal justice system were sentenced to serve life without parole, were children of color.
Gov. Cooper, after review, is commuting some of those sentences as many of those defendants get older, basing it on the positive work they are doing now, not the crimes they committed in the past.
On the civil justice side, Earls said North Carolina has a lot of legal aid attorneys, but there aren’t enough to meet the tremendous need for representation by low-income people across the state. There are more than 2 million eligible North Carolinians.There is one legal aid attorney for every 8,000 who need them for issues like evictions, family law, foreclosures. The percentage of these cases that end up in court with representation is one or two percent.
Beyond her views of the criminal justice system she serves on the state's highest court, Associate Justice Earls paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., sharing how her father wanted to honor Dr. King by putting a picture of him up in the break room of the hospital where he worked. He was made to take it down.
So, through her family’s history, Earls said she understood the importance of Dr. King’s legacy, and felt that we should work towards honoring the human dignity of all people, instead of playing one race against another.
MARTIN LUTHER KING III
CAN VOTING RIGHTS BE PASSED
WITH A GOP CONGRESS?
By Cash Michaels
Even with a Republican majority in the U.S. House for the new 118th Congress, Pres. Biden could still sign new voting rights protection into law this year, a NC congressperson assures. Just one thing has to happen first.
In the Democrat-led 117th Congress, Democrats in the House passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) and the For the People Act (H.R. 1).
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, when enacted into law, would restore the full power of the original 1965 Voting Rights Act after it was weakened by two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. It would also protect against racial voter discrimination; re-establish pre-clearance procedures for the U.S.. Dept. of Justice so that no state can pass and implement new election laws and procedures without federal review and approval; protect access to voting for all voters regardless of race, creed or color; and restore the right of all voters to challenge discriminatory voting laws.
The For the People Act, when enacted into law, would expand voter registration by allowing automatic, same-day and online registration; would restrict the U.S. Postal Service from implementing any operational changes at least 120 days prior to an Election Day; reduce long lines for voters by allowing no-excuse vote-by-mail and early voting; restore full voting rights for former felons; limit purging voters from voter rolls and prohibit election misinformation.
Both of those voting rights measures were passed by the House, but hit a brick wall in the Democrat-led U.S Senate because at least one senator in the 50-50 body refused to remove the Senate filibuster rule which would have allowed passage by all of its Democratic senators..
Thus, both voting rights measures - H.R. ! and H.R. 4 - failed in the Senate.
As a compromise, the Senate introduced the Freedom to Vote Act last September, but that too failed because Democrats could not overcome the filibuster rules. If that had passed both the Senate and House last year, the law would have done most of the things H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 were designed to do, plus outlaw partisan gerrymandering and make Election Day a public holiday.
So now, with a conservative leaning Republican House in power, how can the voting rights measures that failed in the U.S. Senate last year become law now? First, Democrats have enough of a majority to override any vote to uphold the filibuster.
According to NC Rep. Alma Adams, if the Democrat-led Senate passes either H.R. 1 or H.R. 4, or both, without changing a word, or adding anything to what the House passed in 2022, those laws can go straight to Pres. Biden for his signature.
“If it’s not changed, that’s it,” the Charlotte - Mecklenburg U.S. House representative told this reporter. “If it’s not modified in anyway, then it’s a wrap.”
However, if the Senate changes or adds anything, it is required to send the new versions back to the now Republican House, which, in all likelihood, would kill both measures, rather than concur with the bills.
On Monday during an interview on CNN, Martin Luther King III held out faith that voting rights could be achieved soon.
“It’s going to be quite difficult for any of that to happen with this Republican-led Congress, but we have to keep exerting pressure on them,” King III said. “Nothing happened in the modern civil rights movement until it happened,”