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home : state news : e-state news March 23, 2019

2/25/2019 11:40:00 AM
Amendments Overturned, Challenge Coming

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

North Carolina voters approved two amendments to the state constitution last November. They rejected one that would have given the General Assembly more power over the makeup of a state board that decides election and ethics disputes and another that would have given legislators more power in picking judges for vacant seats.

Approved were an amendment to the state constitution that caps the maximum state income tax at 7 percent, down from 10 percent. Critics said the result could mean that a recession could lead legislators to raise sales taxes or impose cutbacks on education, safety and other government services.

Another constitutional change that would expand guarantees to crime victims was also approved as was what some have called a meaningless amendment that enshrines undefined "traditional methods" of hunting and fishing.

Voters rejected two proposals that would have given the General Assembly more power while diminishing that of the Governor--one related to the state elections board and an ethics committee and the other to filling vacant judgeships.

Certainly the most controversial of the approved amendments was the one requiring a photo i-d to vote.

On Friday (Feb. 22nd) a Wake County court struck down two of the three approved amendments including the voter i-d amendment, ruling that the General Assembly was "illegally constituted" because of gerrymandering and hence had no right to suggest amending the state's constitution.

In a case brought by the North Carolina NAACP, Superior Court Judge G. Byron Collins (a Democrat) ruled that an "unconstitutionally racially-gerrymandered General Assembly" could not place constitutional amendments on the ballot for ratification, calling its ability to do so an "unsettled question of state law."

Collins specifically cited the voter ID and tax cap amendments.

Last August, federal judges affirmed an earlier decision calling North Carolina's congressional districts unconstitutional because Republicans drew them with excessive partisanship.

Acting under an order from the US Supreme Court to re-examine the case, the three-judge panel ruled in favor of election advocacy groups and Democrats who had sued to challenge the boundaries drawn in 2016.

Collins stated that because the high court ruled the districts to be gerrymandered, with two-thirds of the districts to be redrawn, "the General Assembly lost its claim to popular sovereignty."

"An illegally constituted General Assembly does not represent the people of North Carolina and is therefore not empowered to pass legislation that would amend the state's Constitution," Collins wrote in his opinion.

The judge noted that each of the amendments passed the General Assembly by a slim margin over the required three-fifths majority, the voter ID amendment only two votes over that threshold in the House and three in the Senate, and the tax cap amendment by one vote over three-fifths in the House and four in the Senate. Voters approved the voter i-d amendment 55% to 45% and the tax cap amendment 57% to 43%.

The decision could be turned over on appeal. Senate Leader Phil Berger said, "We are duty-bound to appeal this absurd decision. The prospect of invalidating 18 months of laws is the definition of chaos and confusion. Based on this opinion and others over the past several years, it appears 61the idea of judicial restraint has completely left the state of North Carolina."

North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment recognizing only heterosexual marriages in May 2012. The amendment read: "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts." Voters approved that amendment 61% to 39%, but the amendment was found unconstitutional in federal court on October 10, 2014.

The General Assembly also had problems with another law they passed--the infamous HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill." That law cost North Carolina the NBA All-Star game and several other sporting events including the ACC Football Championship before it was repealed.

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