(CN) – Anita Earls is leaving her job. She’s saying goodbye to longtime associates, withdrawing from all of her cases, and starting to campaign full time.
The veteran civil rights attorney and executive director of the Southern Coalition of Social Justice made a name for herself by overturning legislative districts in North Carolina that were ultimately found to be an unconstitutional gerrymander.
Now, tired of watching the state’s highest judicial bench be politicized, she’s decided to run for the state Supreme Court in the hopes of changing that.
“[There has been] a radical revolution in our state government and I thought it would be important to stand up for the democratic principles that I hold dear which includes the independence of the judiciary and fair and impartial courts,” she said in an interview with Courthouse News.
This politicization of the courts was the focus of a recent report from Brennan Center For Justice at the New York University Law School. In it, the authors examine the growing cost of state Supreme Court races, and the heightened potential influence donor dollars might have on the judges that receive them..
The report found that record-breaking money is being spent on state Supreme Court races across the country. And that’s led court-watchers and advocates of independent jurisprudence to worry aloud whether all this money is undermining courts seen as the last word in state law disputes and a check on the executive and legislative branches of state government.
The escalating cost of state Supreme Court campaigns is nothing new. The required expenditures have been rising steadily for years. But in the wake of Citizens United, the 2010 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations, concerns over the power of money in judicial races has reached a fevered pitch.
Causing the greatest distress is the growing prevalence of so-called “dark money” in state judicial campaigns. Traditionally, candidate-specific groups — the super PACs one hears of every election cycle — are required to disclose donors under federal and many states’ laws.
But after Citizens United, supposedly “independent” groups have been empowered to support candidates while receiving unlimited donations and without having to disclose their donors.