On February 22, 2019, the Wake County Superior Court ruled that the illegally gerrymandered North Carolina General Assembly did not have legal authority to place constitutional amendments on the ballot because it did not act with the full will of the people of North Carolina. The court voided two constitutional amendment proposals — related to imposing a photo voter ID requirement and lowering the state income tax cap — that were hurriedly enacted in the final 2018 special session of the illegally-constituted legislature before it left office.
Judge Bryan Collins of the Wake County Superior ruled that “[a]n 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.” As a result, the two amendments challenged by the plaintiffs are void, and the constitution will revert to its earlier form.
The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina NAACP, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, Forward Justice, and Attorney Irving Joyner. The plaintiffs argued that the North Carolina constitution makes clear in several places that it may only be altered via the will of the people of North Carolina. But North Carolinians, the plaintiffs argued, were not properly represented by elected officials at the time amendments to the constitution were placed on the ballot.
In 2017, the United States Supreme Court upheld the Covington ruling that many of North Carolina’s legislative districts had been illegally drawn along racial lines. Following the decennial census in 2010, the NC legislature had illegally packed African-American voters into districts to dilute these voters’ voices and to diminish their power. To correct this unconstitutional racial gerrymander, 117 districts were required to be redrawn. The remedial districts only went into effect in the November 2018 election, making this the first time in six years that the General Assembly was not elected under the previous racially discriminatory maps. The most recent elections under remedial legislative maps “were ‘needed to return the people of North Carolina to their sovereignty,’” Judge Collins found, citing the Covington ruling.
Said Kym Hunter, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which represents the citizen groups before the court:
“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. 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. ”
Said NC NAACP president Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman:
“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. 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.”
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. See www.southernenvironment.org.
Founded in 1939, the NC NAACP is part of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its branches throughout North Carolina are premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination. See naacpnc.org.
Source: North Carolina NAACP, Forward Justice, and Southern Environmental Law Center