Jack Karp writes for Law 360 that “state judiciaries are becoming more overtly political, and important elections, rulings and ethics cases could exacerbate that partisanship in 2024”:
A similar dynamic is playing out in North Carolina, where Democratic Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls sued the state’s Republican-controlled Judicial Standards Commission after it threatened to investigate her for comments she made about the court’s lack of diversity.
In a June interview with Law360, Earls said: “The new members of our court very much see themselves as a conservative bloc. They talk about themselves as ‘the conservatives.’ Their allegiance is to their ideology, not to the institution.”
The JSC accused Earls of potentially violating the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct by alleging in that interview that her “colleagues are acting out of racial, gender and/or political bias in some of their decision-making.”
Earls insists her comments are protected by the First Amendment.
“There are important roles for judges to have in informing the public. And especially for state court judges in a state like North Carolina where the judges are elected, the public has a responsibility as informed citizens to know what’s going on in the court system,” Earls told Law360 in a later interview about her lawsuit.
She also noted in court filings that her conservative colleagues on the court have made similarly political statements and have not faced investigation or discipline, an indication she may have been singled out by a Republican-run JSC because she’s a Democrat, according to Billy Corriher, state courts manager for the People’s Parity Project.