Earls promises justice ‘with strong heart’ as member of NC Supreme Court
Minutes after taking her oath of office as associate justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon, Anita Earls harkened back to the discord that tore at the nation in the 1960s.
Earls said she had visited relatives in Los Angeles’ Watts community months before riots set the neighborhood ablaze in 1965, and she feared for her family’s safety.
“Would rioters attack me because I looked white? Would the police arrest my cousin because she looked black?” she said.
The fear instilled in her an intense desire to bridge racial divisions and unite people, Earls said.
“I believed it was my responsibility to bring together my family, my community and my country across the racial lines that divided us,” she said. “I had to find a way to bring us all together, show us our shared humanity and guarantee equal opportunities to all.”
Earls has worked diligently for years to win equal opportunity for her clients. She served as deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice under former President Bill Clinton, and she later founded the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a civil rights group that successfully challenged North Carolina’s 2013 voter ID law and gerrymandered voting districts.
Through her work, she said Thursday, she learned bridging those divides isn’t something she could accomplish alone.
“It will take all of our country’s public and private institutions to effect that healing, to bring us together for the common good, to lift us up instead of tearing us apart,” she said. “It requires a system of justice that adheres to the rule of law ... a system in which no one is above the law and justice does not depend on gender, wealth, status, political party, race, creed or color.
“My personal commitment is to serve justice with a strong heart,” she said.
James Ferguson, who hired Earls as an associate with his Charlotte law firm after she graduated from Yale Law School, said she has transformed from a shy lawyer to a dedicated advocate for the poor and disenfranchised over the past 30 years.
“She was there because she was committed to justice for all, particular for those who otherwise might not get it,” Ferguson said. “You are adding a justice who will take even this court higher.
Earls won a three-way race for the eight-year term on the Supreme Court, defeating incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson in November.
Campaigning over the past year, she said, energized her belief in North Carolina’s potential at a time when constitutional guarantees are under attack.
“I trust each of you to help bridge the divides we experience and unite us for the common good,” she said. “Together, we can make a difference.”