By Civitas Institute’s Leah Byers:
With election day right around the corner, various groups are trying to sway public opinion on the six proposed amendments to the state constitution. While some have encouraged consideration of each amendment on its merits, many organizations have resorted to risky rhetoric to attempt to defeat all of the amendments as a group. One slogan against the amendments sheds light on a fatal flaw underlying the “nix all six” campaign.
The slogan “Protect our NC Constitution – Vote Against all Six Amendments” is prominently displayed at the bottom of voter recommendation cards, on yard signs, and in political documents produced by the state Democratic Party and other left-leaning groups.
This statement packs a punch for a yard sign, but it is based on a governmental perspective with dangerous repercussions. This slogan implies that any changes by the people to the constitution is a perversion of the constitution. That is the opposite of the truth of how our system works.
Put aside for a moment your opinions about this year’s specific constitutional amendments. Do we want to advance the narrative that the constitution is an untouchable document, not open to an amendment process?
Think about the amendments to the United States Constitution. The Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments clarified that voting is the right of all Americans, regardless of race or sex. They were adopted 80 and 132 years after the ratification of the Constitution. What if those amendments had not been added, for the sake of “protecting” the Constitution? That is a scary thought.
Self-governance is a fundamental principle of North Carolina and the United States. The state constitution is a tool of the people – a framework for our government, intended to preserve our freedom and protect citizens against invasive government action. A view that the constitution transcends public oversight is dangerous because it surrenders the autonomy of the current citizenry to that of generations past.
Constitutions enshrine our ideals and temper our passions, providing a way for change, when necessary. This is not to say it should be easy to change the constitution. As sovereign people, North Carolinians should carefully deliberate on the state government we want to build for ourselves through our constitution. The amendment process ensures that due diligence is given to constitutional changes. Three-fifths of each chamber of the General Assembly must approve of the measure being added to the ballot. Then, the ballot measure must receive over 50 percent of voter support in order to be added to the constitution. Through representative and direct democracy, the people of North Carolina shape the state’s constitution.
Some have criticized the process by which the proposed constitutional amendments made their way through the legislature this year. But that is precisely why there is a two-fold process that requires direct voter approval. Our system is wisely designed to provide checks on the legislature’s power over the constitution that governs it.
Saying that we should “protect our constitution” against the will of the people is inverted logic. The constitution is our governing framework, established by the people as guardrails on government. Great care and consideration should be given to weighing in on changes to the constitution, but amending the constitution does not inherently damage it.
Do the groups promoting the message truly hold this perspective? Who knows. It is likely that those groups would have no such opposition to a group of progressive amendments. Instead of “protect the constitution” from change, they could actually be saying “protect the constitution” from conservative policies, such as limits on government taxation. But this, too, underlies a dangerous belief: that the constitution requires protection from the citizens of North Carolina who hold preferences for conservative policies. Under this worldview, progressive policies are the only legitimate options. Citizens can have self-governance, but only if it is contained within a designated progressive scope defined by the Leftist elites.
It seems the most likely scenario is that the “nix all six” campaign is trying to defeat the solidly conservative amendments by condemning all of the amendments as a collective. Knowing that they can’t topple the popular amendments on their merits, the Left has reverted to sweeping claims about protecting the integrity of the constitution. But their messaging has consequences, and they should carefully rethink the claim that North Carolinians do not have the right to self-govern through amending the state constitution.