Late Friday afternoon, Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins issued a groundbreaking ruling, agreeing that an illegally gerrymandered General Assembly does not have legal authority to place constitutional amendments on the ballot. The Judge ruled that the unconstitutional legislature, which was the product of one of the most widespread racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court, did not act with the full will of the people of North Carolina and had limited authority to act. That authority did not extend to altering the state constitution. SELC represented the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and Clean Air Carolina in the case, working in partnership with Forward Justice.
The ruling meets the extraordinary need in North Carolina for a judicial check on a legislature that has repeatedly sought to illegally consolidate more and more power. Armed with this ill-gotten power, the General Assembly has visited harm after harm upon North Carolina communities and natural places — slashing regulations, rewarding polluters, and defunding important environmental protection programs.
The court voided two constitutional amendments – one related to imposing a photo voter ID requirement and one 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.
“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. “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.”
In his opinion, Judge Collins 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 Legislative defendants have filed an appeal and it is expected the case will end up in the North Carolina Supreme Court.