By- Divya Makanaboina
A North Carolina court appeals panel reversed a court decision on Tuesday that nullified amendments to the state constitution because senators who put referendums on the ballot were elected from racially skewed districts.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly’s challenge to acts is not over after the Court of Appeals’ divided ruling and will be determined by the State Supreme Court. The case, brought by the state NAACP, based on a pair of amendments passed by voters in November 2018 including a voting requirement for photo identification.
The appeals panel concluded that in early 2019, Wake County Supreme Court Judge Bryan Collins got it wrong by ruling that the legislature lacked the authority to approve laws that produced the referendums. The other approved amendment lowered the income tax rate limit from 10% to 7%. Collins declared at the time that the General Assembly was “illegally assembled” because it included members elected in 2016 from almost 30 legislative districts struck down as unconstitutional ethnic gerrymanders by federal courts.
Federal magistrates also ordered legislators elected from districts used in 2016 to redraw the maps for the 2018 election. That’s an order that declares such lawmakers’ legitimacy to rule on other matters, Judge Chris Dillon of the Court of Appeals wrote. If Collins’ decision were to be upheld, added Dillon, there would be nothing to deter legal challenges to traditional legislation accepted by that General Assembly version, or other sessions where judges ruled unconstitutional gerrymandering. That would bring chaos and uncertainty, he wrote with a colleague.
“There is no North Carolina law that describes the North Carolina Constitution in a way that might validate the trial court ‘s conclusion,” Judge Donna Stroud stated in a separate opinion supporting Dillon ‘s reverse Collins ruling. “If the General Assembly does not have the authority to pass a bill to give a constitutional amendment to the electorate, it certainly lacked the authority to pass other bills too.”
The lawyers of the NAACP argue that members of the General Assembly authorised under maps considered unlawful were “usurpers,” and thus lacked legitimacy. Although noting that courts have allowed unconstitutional legislators to pass other laws and budgets, the lawyers of the plaintiffs argued that amending the constitution had more long-term ramifications that had to be stopped.
In writing the differing view, Judge Reuben Young of the Court of Appeals claimed that it was not essential for such a general assembly to annul all legislative acts. But actions to change the “core text of this state’s rules” are different, he said. “To try to do so is an affront to the ideals of democracy that elevates our nation and state to an unlawfully constituted legislature, built by unlawful gerrymandering,” Young wrote.
The NAACP plans to appeal the Supreme Court decision, said Kym Hunter, a public lawyer. “The North Carolina people are not represented by a racially gerrymandered General Assembly, and are thus not allowed to change the state’s constitution,” she said in an interview. The verdict was commended by House Speaker Tim Moore, who is defendants in the case along with Senate leader Phil Berger. “That our people can believe their vote on critical economic issues and that our democratic systems can work and not be overruled by activist courts is a wonderful day for democracy,” Moore said in a news release.