An Alamance County state senator is criticizing N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls for deciding to take part in the latest stage of the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit.
“Justice Earls has no business hearing this case before the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Amy Galey, a Republican who serves on the Senate’s education committee and the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee. “It wasn’t enough for her to tell North Carolinians their votes don’t matter if the result doesn’t line up with her political preferences. Now, she thinks it’s OK for a lawyer who participated in a case to serve as an appellate judge providing ‘impartial review’ of the same case. Justice Earls cannot rule fairly and impartially, and her previous involvement shows exactly that.”
Galey responded to Earls’ decision, announced Friday, to deny a motion for her recusal in the Leandro case. On the same day, the state Supreme Court released its 4-3 decision in N.C. NAACP v. Moore. The decision, authored by Earls, will allow a trial judge to determine whether two voter-approved state constitutional amendments can be nullified. The amendments are designed to guarantee photo identification for voters in North Carolina and to lower the state’s income tax cap.
“Her decision not to recuse herself came mere hours after she all but threw out millions of legitimate votes in a partisan ploy to deny North Carolinians their constitutional right to voter ID,” according to a news release from state Senate Republicans. “Now she’s on the precipice of completely nuking the separation of powers by siding with the same party she previously represented.”
Earls served as an attorney for intervening plaintiffs in the Leandro case in 2005. Later she filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case supporting plaintiffs.
“I conclude that grounds do not exist for me to disqualify myself from hearing and deciding the issues presented,” Earls wrote Friday.
“[T]he matter in which I did appear seventeen years ago as one of several attorneys representing intervenors was severed from the underlying case and is not at issue in this appeal,” she wrote.
“I filed an amicus brief on behalf of the civil rights organization I was leading a decade ago,” Earls added. “Just as a jurist’s prior career as a prosecutor is not understood to undermine their capacity to preside impartially in cases involving the State or defendants prosecuted by their office, it would be a disservice to the judiciary and to the people of North Carolina to conclude that my prior career as a civil rights attorney precludes me from acting impartially in cases involving civil rights matters.”
On the same day that Earls rejected recusal in Leandro, Justice Phil Berger Jr. filed his own order explaining his decision to hear the case.
The Leandro case, officially titled Hoke County Board of Education v. State, dates back to 1994. The state Supreme Court already has produced major opinions in the case in 1997 and 2004.
In the current dispute, justices will decide whether a trial judge can order the state to spend an additional $785 million on education-related items. Those items are linked to a court-sanctioned plan, dubbed the comprehensive remedial plan. That plan stems from a multiyear, multibillion-dollar proposal developed for the trial court by San Francisco-based consultant WestEd.
In addition to the spending, justices will decide whether a trial judge can bypass the General Assembly and order other state government officials to move the $785 million out of the state treasury. Legislative leaders and the state controller’s office object to the forced money transfer.
Oral arguments are scheduled Aug. 31. Berger, Earls, and the rest of the justices will render a decision at a later date “to be chosen in the Court’s discretion,” according to a scheduling order.