GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — A hearing was held before a federal judge in North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls’ lawsuit against the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission in an effort to halt an ethics investigation against Earls.

She said it is impacting her right to free-speech.

The investigation was launched after statements Earls made earlier this year, regarding the lack of diversity in the state’s courts.

Several attorneys, civil rights organizations and North Carolinians sat in the federal courtroom in downtown Greensboro in support of Earls.

Earls is the only Black justice on the NC Supreme Court, one of two Democrats and one of three women.

“This is a critically important public interest issue, and it should be for any political persuasion, any ideology because it goes to the core of free speech … Because Justice Anita Earls has spoken out, basically naming and talking about the lack of racial equity, meaning the disparity in in racial and gender personnel in our judicial system, particularly the state Supreme Court,” said Lewis Pitts, a retired civil rights attorney.

The focus of Thursday’s hearing before Federal Judge William Osteen was Earls’ motion requesting preliminary injunction, which would stop the ethics investigation.

The argument from the State Judicial Standards Commission’s side was that Earls’ statements could be read as accusing her colleagues of acting out of racial, gender, or political bias in their decision making.

Earls’ attorney argued the commission is not allowing her to exercise her First Amendment right to free speech.  

“I think it’s very important that when situations like this happen, especially around potential discrimination or censorship of somebody’s First Amendment rights, especially in a case like this, it’s very important that people know that, one, they’re not alone, and that there are people in the community that care that want to see justice served,” said Kay Brown, Greensboro NAACP president.

Osteen asked questions regarding clarification of the statements made by Justice Earls regarding the lack of diversity in the state court and regarding other justices potentially placing their political ideologies over the judicial law to help determine his decision in her request to stop the investigation.

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If the investigation were to continue, it could jeopardize Earls’ future as a justice in the NC Supreme Court.

“They would have the power if they chose to … to kick her out of office or issue some kind of public recommend reprimand … which would do a great injustice to us because it would harm her in her efforts to be reelected,” Pitts said.

Osteen did not make a decision today on Earls’ request to stop the investigation and will do so at a later date that has not yet been determined.