Calling the General Assembly “illegally constituted,” the Superior Court Judge G. Bryan Collins Jr. struck down two of the four constitutional amendments North Carolina voters passed in November.
The two amendments—one capping the state’s income-tax rate at 7 percent, and the other requiring voters to show identification—were the subject of a lawsuit from the state NAACP and Clean Air Carolina.
But Collins’s ruling didn’t deal specifically with the NAACP’s claims that its members’ voters rights would be harmed by the ID requirement or that African Americans would be disadvantaged by an income-tax cap that favored wealthy whites, nor on the CAC’s concern that capping the state’s income tax could harm North Carolina’s ability to address issues like climate change, though he did rule that the NAACP (but not the CAC) had standing to sue.
Instead, Collins’s ruling focused on the nature of the General Assembly itself. In particular: “Whether an unconstitutionally racially-gerrymandered General Assembly can place constitutional amendments onto the ballot for public ratification is a justiciable issue and not a political question.”
As he notes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the legislature was illegally gerrymandered, at which point, he writes, “the General Assembly lost its claim to sovereignty.” After that ruling, a federal court brought in a special master to redraw legislative boundaries. The “remedial maps” the special master drew altered more than two-thirds of the state House and Senate districts, Collins writes.
“Thus, the unconstitutional racial gerrymander tainted the three-fifths majorities required by the state Constitution before an amendment proposal can be submitted to the people for a vote, breaking the requisite chain of popular sovereignty between North Carolina citizens and their representatives,” Collins writes. “… 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.”
While his ruling nullified only the two amendments at issue, the logic would seem to apply to the two others that passed—Marsy’s Law and the amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish—should anyone challenge them.
This is a breaking story. The INDY will have more as it develops.