The senator argues that Earls has ‘no business’ hearing Leandro’s case

An Alamance County state senator is criticizing NC Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls for her decision to participate in the latest phase of the long-running Leandro school funding case.

“Judge Earls has no business hearing this case on the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Amy Gailey, a Republican who serves on the Senate Education Committee and the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee. “It wasn’t good enough for North Carolinians that their vote didn’t matter if the outcome didn’t align with her political preferences. Now, she thinks it’s okay for a litigator to serve as an appellate judge providing an ‘impartial review’ of the same case. Justice Earls said impartially and Can’t rule fairly, and his previous engagements show exactly that.

Galley responded to Earls’ decision, announced Friday, to deny his motion for reconsideration in the Leandro case. That same day, the state Supreme Court issued a 4-3 decision in NC NAACP v. Moore. The ruling, written by Earls, will allow a trial judge to determine whether two voter-approved state constitutional amendments can be struck down. The amendments are designed to guarantee photo identification for North Carolina voters and lower the state’s income tax cap.

“His decision not to recuse himself comes hours after millions of valid votes were thrown away in a partisan move to deny North Carolinians their constitutional right to voter ID,” a statement from state Senate Republicans said. “Now she is poised to completely nuke the separation of powers in favor of the party she once represented.”

Earls served as an attorney for the plaintiffs in Leandro’s case in 2005. He later filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the plaintiffs.

“I conclude that the grounds to disqualify myself from hearing and deciding the cases presented do not exist,” Earls wrote Friday.

“[T]That case in which I appeared seventeen years ago as one of several attorneys representing the 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 a civil rights organization that I led a decade ago,” Earls added. “Just as a jurist’s prior career as a prosecutor is not understood to impair his ability to impartially preside over cases involving defendants prosecuted by the state or their office, it would be disrespectful to the judiciary and the people of North Carolina. My prior career as a civil rights attorney has made me a civil prevented from acting impartially in matters of rights”.

On the same day that Earls denied rehearing in Leandro, Justice Phil Berger Jr. filed his own order explaining his decision to hear the case.

The Leandro case, officially Hoke County Board of Education v. State, 1994. The state Supreme Court has already issued major opinions on the issue in 1997 and 2004.

In the current dispute, the 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-approved plan, called a comprehensive treatment plan. That plan came from a multiyear, multibillion-dollar proposal developed for the trial court by San Francisco-based consultant WestEd.

In addition to spending, the justices will decide whether a trial judge can bypass the General Assembly and order other state government officials to move $785 million out of state coffers. Legislative leaders and the state comptroller’s office oppose forced money transfers.

Oral arguments are scheduled for August 31. Berger, Earls and the rest of the justices will rule at a later date, according to a scheduling order “to be chosen in the court’s discretion.”

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