By Nathan Ham
Last Friday, Wake County Superior Court passed down a ruling that has stirred the political pools once again across North Carolina.
Judge Bryan Collins ruled that the illegally gerrymandered districts in the North Carolina General Assembly did not have the legal authority to place constitutional amendments on the 2018 ballot in November.
“An illegally constituted General Assembly does not represent the people of North Carolina and is not empowered to pass legislation that would amend the state’s Constitution,” Judge Collins said.
The two amendments challenged in this lawsuit filed by the North Carolina NAACP were the income tax cap amendment and the voter ID amendment. The North Carolina NCAAP was represented in this lawsuit by the Southern Environmental Law Center, Forward Justice and attorney Irving Joyner.
According to information provided by the Southern Environmental Law Center, it was argued that North Carolinians were not properly represented by elected officials at the time that the amendments were placed on the ballot and passed in November.
“We are delighted that the acts of the previous majority, which came to power through the use of racially discriminatory maps, have been checked. The prior General Assembly’s attempt to use its ill-gotten power to enshrine a racist photo voter ID requirement in the state constitution was particularly egregious, and we applaud the court for invalidating these attempts at unconstitutional overreach,” said N.C. NAACP president Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman. “The efforts from the previous legislature came straight out of the playbook from our state’s shameful past of institutional racism, and we are glad the judiciary has stepped in to stop it in its tracks.”
The constitutionality of these two amendments were called into question relating back to a 2017 decision by the United States Supreme Court that upheld the Covington ruling that many of North Carolina’s legislative districts had been illegally drawn along racial lines. The ruling stated that after the 2010 census, the North Carolina legislature had “ illegally packed African-American voters into districts to dilute these voters’ voices and to diminish their power.”
Following that ruling, it was determined that a total of 117 districts would have to be redrawn. The districts were corrected by the time of the 2018 election, however the ruling that the previously gerrymandered districts had allowed for the legislature to be set up the way it was when the amendments were placed on the ballot made those amendment votes invalid.
“We’re thrilled the court has made clear that our state’s core foundational document can only be amended when all people of North Carolina are properly represented,” said Kym Hunter, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which represents the citizen groups before the court. “It would be wrong to reward an unconstitutionally gerrymandered General Assembly with the authority to take such drastic action. We are grateful for Judge Collins’ thoughtful ruling which balances the interest in orderly governance with the extreme injustice under which many North Carolinians have long been living.”
Comments and statements from all across the political spectrum came flooding into news outlets and social media outlets.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, 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 tonight’s opinion and others over the past several years, it appears the idea of judicial restraint has completely left the state of North Carolina.”
Senator Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), who chairs the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee, said, “I am legitimately concerned about the future of our state and country with opinions like this abomination. One man with a political axe to grind invalidated millions of votes and potentially dozens of laws, including the state budget. Two million voters decided to add voter ID to their state constitution, but one Democrat on a power high is invalidating their will.”
Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson represents District 37 in Mecklenburg County, said “this is a remarkable ruling and it’s too soon to gauge its prospects on appeal. But, at a minimum, it underscores the obvious need to end the corrupt system of gerrymandering and let the state’s true political voice be heard.”
State House Speaker Tim Moore chimed in, saying that this court decision silenced the voice of North Carolina voters.
“We will fight for North Carolinians’ voice in support of voter ID and a lower income tax cap,” Moore said. “The people have spoken and this outrageous attempt to invalidate their decisions will be appealed.”
Locally, Senator Deanna Ballard issued a statement, saying: “It was extremely disappointing to see the votes of millions of North Carolinians disregarded based on the decision of one judge in Wake County. Both the Voter ID and Tax Cap amendments were approved by the voters by wide margins and I fully support Rep. Moore and Sen. Berger’s appeal of this outrageous ruling.”
A message was left for newly elected representative Ray Russell seeking his comments on this court ruling. The article will be updated should we hear back.