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NC Democratic Party leader vows to focus more attention, resources on judicial races


by Kelan Lyons, NC Newsline
January 25, 2024

The chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party called Republicans “shameless” on Thursday for their repeated actions to overturn judicial precedent and politicize the state’s courts, underscoring the need for Democrats to take back the judiciary in 2028.

“We (North Carolinians) own these courts, not the few and the power-hungry GOP that are pulling all the strings right now,” said Anderson Clayton, chair of the NC Democratic Party. “Our courts should be protecting our rights, not trampling on them.”

In a virtual press conference, Clayton recounted the Republican-led state Supreme Court’s overturning of rulings on racial gerrymandering and voter ID, its ruling upholding felony disenfranchisement for people on probation and parole, and most recently, the state Judicial Standards Commision’s investigation of Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls for speaking out about the lack of diversity in the judiciary. North Carolina Democratic Party chair, Anderson Clayton. Photo:

“Every North Carolinian deserves a justice system that’s open and transparent,” Clayton said. “We should be encouraging truthtellers. And an independent judiciary is one that does not fear criticism or improvement, particularly when it comes to ensuring that our courts deliver on the promise of equal justice under the law to every single person who comes through the courthouse doors.”

Earls, one of two Democrats and the only Black woman on the high court, sued the Judicial Standards Commission last year, alleging it had violated her free speech rights by investigating her for comments she made about the lack of diversity in the state judiciary. She’d talked to a reporter from Law360 about the court’s lack of judicial clerks from racial minority groups and the state courts’ discontinuance of racial equity and implicit bias training. Associate Justice Anita Earls Photo: NC Supreme Court

Earls dropped her lawsuit last week after the commission dismissed the complaint.

Racial justice organizations Emancipate NC and the North Carolina Black Alliance held a press conference after Earls dropped the lawsuit, praising the power of collective, organized action in defending against the “racism behind the attack on Justice Earls,” according to an article in The Carolinian Newspaper.

The Judicial Standards Commission is supposed to be an independent agency, but Clayton said that Chief Justice Paul Newby — a conservative Republican who appoints six of the group’s 14 members — exerts immense influence on its actions.

“I know from being a chair right now who has appointment powers that the people that sit in my appointed positions, speak on behalf of me,” Clayton said.

Democrats have gotten swept in recent years in statewide judicial races. Now, for the first time, Clayton said, the party is hiring a judicial coordinating campaign director, which she said Republicans have had for years, a potential secret for their success in those elections.

“They had someone that was in the Republican GOP headquarters every year that was maintaining their judicial races and focusing on them,” Clayton said. “And we need to make sure we have that in the party this year, too.”

One of the Democrats’ two Supreme Court seats (currently held by Justice Allison Riggs) is up for election this year. Earls will be up for reelection in 2026. Clayton said that whoever is hired for the judicial coordinating campaign director job will work on the statewide judicial races, making sure the candidates traverse North Carolina in the run-up to Election Day.

“One of the things that I feel like justices and judges have done in the past is they’ve not campaigned as a statewide candidate,” Clayton said. Democrats, she said, will need make sure that candidates work to promote all other party members up and down the ballot, in addition to their own candidacies.

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