JUSTICE EARLS LOSES
BATTLE TO STOP PROBE,
AND REFUSES TO RECUSE
HERSELF FROM LEANDRO
By Cash Michaels
Associate State Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls’ efforts to stop a NC Judicial Standards Commission investigation into her conduct while serving on the NC High Court were dashed, meaning that she must still walk on egg shells when it comes to freely expressing her opinions, especially as the only African-American on the State Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Republican legislative leaders want Earls to recuse herself from an upcoming state Supreme Court hearing on the 29-year-old Leandro educational funding case. In a motion in mid-November, the GOP wanted Earls to step aside because she was originally a plaintiff’s attorney in the case.
Justice Earls has refused to recuse herself, and state Supreme Court rules allow her to ultimately make the final decision. She can also allow the rest of the court to make the decision for her, which is unlikely.
The state Supreme Court agreed to rehear the Leandro funding case on Oct. 20th. Republican leaders appealed to the GOP -led High Court after a Superior Court Court judge last April ordered the legislature to spend an additional $677 million in education funding to help public schools in poorer counties be better funded.
No date has been set for the rehearing.
As Justice Earls deals with being targeted for recusal in the Leandro case, she is also recovering from a first round loss in her federal court battle with the NC Judicial Standards Commission (NCJSC).
Earls asked federal Judge William Osteen Jr. for a preliminary injunction against NCJSC to stop it from continuing to investigate her speeches, interviews and opinions while she sues it in federal court. But Judge Osteen refused Justice Earls’ motion, saying that she failed to show a likelihood of winning her case on the merits.
Earls, through her attorney, is appealing his decision.
Justice Earls, in her lawsuit against the NCJSC, alleges that its investigation of a complaint against her and remarks that she reportedly made during a published interview with a legal magazine, effectively threaten her First Amendment rights to free speech.
NCJSC counters that all it is doing is its job to investigate members of the judiciary who may make remarks that cast aspersions on the institution.
Earls’ federal lawsuit is still viable despite her failure to win an injunction to stop the NCJSC.
The only African-American associate justice, as well as one of only two female Democrats on the seven-member state Supreme Court, had been vocal about alleged racial and partisan bias on the part of her Republican colleagues.
It has not been made public as to who filed the compliant against Justice Earls, but it is no secret that she is not well regarded by her Republican colleagues.
DID GOP TRY TO
IN NEW VOTING
By Cash Michaels
During the last week of October, when Republican lawmakers approved their new redistricting voting maps, known as Senate Bill 758, did they try to hide the fact that some of them were in fact racial gerrymanders?
When Democrats pressed them on their maps, Republicans insisted that they used partisan lines, not racial lines, to determine the voting districts.
But at least two African American voters - Rodney Pierce and Moses Matthews - didn’t agree, and filed a federal lawsuit on November 21st, claiming that Republican lawmakers drew a Senate redistricting map that disregarded “…ample evidence of racially polarized voting and a history of discrimination in the “Black Belt counties” of northeastern North Carolina, and an obligation under the Voting Rights Act to analyze that evidence before drawing districts…”
The federal lawsuit continued, “… the North Carolina General Assembly adopted a Senate plan that unlawfully deprives Black voters of the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”
“The Black population in North Carolina’s Black Belt counties is sufficiently numerous and geographically compact to form a majority-minority district. Voting in the region is also highly polarized along racial lines—Black voters there are politically cohesive, but white voters vote sufficiently as a bloc to usually defeat minority candidates of choice. Nonetheless, SB 758 “cracks” Black voters in the region across multiple districts, including Senate District 2, which stretches more than 160 miles from the Virginia border to Carteret County on the Atlantic Ocean. When considered against the totality of the circumstances, SB 758’s cracking of Black voters in this region dilutes their voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
“Accordingly, Plaintiffs seek an order (1) declaring that SB 758 violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; (2) enjoining Defendants from conducting future elections under SB 758; (3) ordering a remedial plan that includes a minority opportunity district in the Black Belt counties; and (4) providing any such additional relief as is appropriate,” the federal lawsuit stated.
“Black Belt” counties are northeastern North Carolina counties that are part of the historic Black Belt in the Southeast where slaves and their descendants worked the fields. Those counties in North Carolina are majority Black, but the federal lawsuit alleges that the Senate voting map ignores that fact.
The new GOP redistricting maps were also drawn in secret, which doesn’t help their case with Democrats.
“The plan enacted by the General Assembly in late October splits, cracks, and packs Black voters to dilute their votes and blunt their ability to fully participate in the democratic process,” charged Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue in a statement.
“For example, there are eight counties in North Carolina that are majority Black in population, and they are all in eastern North Carolina (Bertie, Hertford, Edgecombe, Northampton, Halifax, Vance, Warren and Washington). The map enacted by the General Assembly divides these eight counties among four separate districts,” Sen. Blue continued. “This is ‘cracking’ on steroids.”
At a hearing about the Senate maps in late September, citizens gave Republicans an earful.
“In my opinion, it’s immoral and it’s pretty wicked that you’d go to this level to stop people from progressing,” Brunswick County resident Mahlaynee Cooper, co-founder of the social action group Speak Ya Peace, pointedly told GOP lawmakers. “I’m disappointed but not surprised.”
On Oct. 22nd, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice reportedly sent Republican legislative leaders a letter requesting a “full analysis” of the new voting maps, but also added that it saw problems with Senate Districts 1 and 2 in how their African-American populations were broken up.
Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Sen. Paul Newton responded, however, that "the redistricting maps are fair and legal and comply with the law.”
In an emergency motion, both plaintiffs Pierce and Matthews, who are also suing the State Board of Elections, asked for a resolution of their request for a preliminary injunction by Dec. 1st, several days before the start of candidate filing.