by Jim Stirling
Research Fellow, John Locke Foundation
Following the three-judge panel’s ruling on North Carolina’s latest Redistricting case yesterday, the North Carolina Republican-led Legislature has filed a motion that North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls recuse herself from the case. The defendant’s reasoning for recusal is due to Justice Earls’ relationship with two parties involved in the lawsuit; The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC). Earls was a founder of the SCSJ and lead attorney until her resignation in 2017 to run for the Supreme Court.
Senator Warren Daniels released a press statement, further explaining the legislators’ motion to recuse, citing Earls’ relationship with Eric Holder’s redistricting organization National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC). Earls received a max donation of $5,200 and an endorsement by the NDRC PAC during her 2018 Supreme Court election. Legislative defendants site the NDRC as Earl’s biggest backer due to their investment of $250,000 to the North Carolina Democratic Party’s “judicial coordination fund.” Earls’ bid was the only Supreme Court election in 2018, and her campaign’s financial records indicate over $199,000 in funding and in-kind contributions toward her committee “Earls for Justice Committee.”
While legislative defendants do not claim that the NDRC nor the Earls for Justice Committee broke the law, they say that the funding and the NDRC’s heavy involvement in her election “suggest influence.” Apart from the financial backing Earls received, the Earls campaign also had NDRC head and former President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, campaign for her election in October of 2018.
Holder’s organization was founded in 2017 to centralize Democratic redistricting efforts and works closely with Clinton Lawyer Marc Elias. Elias’s firm is currently representing the Harper plaintiffs in the North Carolina Redistricting case, one of the two plaintiff parties in the combined case alongside the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters (NCLCV). While the NDRC is not a named organization in the suit, in their motion, the legislators claim, “Marc Elias and other counsel in Harper are being paid by funds from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (“NDRC”).”
NDRC’s efforts in North Carolina’s redistricting extends further than their efforts in Earls’ campaign or their funding of redistricting suits. The National Redistricting Action Fund, a non-profit arm of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, has been heavily involved in this year’s redistricting process through their program “All on the Line” (AOTL). AOTL sought to influence the redistricting process to create maps that benefit North Carolina Democrats, training activists how and what to say at redistricting hearings to set up for their litigation over those districts.
The Civitas Center for Public Integrity has previously touched on how organizations like AOTL dominated much of this year’s redistricting process. Many of the speakers at the events were associated with partisan organizations, leadership of local political parties, or there at the behest of non-profit organizations involved in politics.
Currently, the court is being asked to recuse justices Earls, Phil Berger Jr., and Sam Ervin IV. It is unlikely the court will deviate from the recent precedent set in the NAACP v. Moore case, allowing the individual justices to determine when and if they should recuse themselves from a case.