RALEIGH – Two of three judges sitting on a judicial panel to decided to ban the inclusion of two amendments, out of six total amendments, from the November 6 ballot. The majority opinion, which is very likely to be appealed, stated that the language in these two amendments was misleading as it insufficiently explained the actual changes to legislative and gubernatorial authority involved.
The two judges making up the majority were a Democrat and an unaffiliated, while the dissenting judge is a Republican. No real surprises there.
The decision gives Gov. Roy Cooper a temporary win, as the two amendments in question dealt with clarifying authorities between the legislative and executive branch for 1) appointments to myriad state boards and commissions, and 2) appointing judicial vacancies.
Both powers are currently under the authority of the governor, and would have transferred to the legislature in the event of the amendments’ approval by voters.
Curiously, the panel had already halted the printing of ballots until the case before them, as well as appeals, were resolved. So the ruling that bans two amendments doesn’t actually change anything for the time being. The ballot printing is still on hold.
Even so, Republican legislative leaders were not pleased, citing the court’s venturing into questionable territory.
“We’re aware of no North Carolina court that has ever before denied the people the right to vote on a constitutional amendment,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger’s (R-Rockingham) spokesman Pat Ryan in a statement. “This is uncharted territory for judicial activism and sets a dangerous precedent when two judges take away the rights of 9 million people to vote on what their constitution says. We are reviewing our legal options.”
The judges made explicit in the order their awareness of the weight of their decision and how it could shape future challenges to such referenda.
“We are aware that our courts have not previously addressed a situation exactly like the one presented here. As a result, this panel must rely on principals [sic] of constitutional interpretation established by our courts, including the text of the Constitution and accepted canons of construction, as well as the historical jurisprudence of our courts on similar issues.”
With the seeming partisan breakdown of the decision, it makes one wonder how a majority Democrat supreme court will rule on the issue when it is likely appealed.
While, these were the two amendments Cooper challenged, the NAACP and a leftist environmental group also brought suits against the voter ID and state income tax rate cap amendments.
How did their challenge go? Not so good for them.
The panel agreed that the environmental group didn’t even have standing to challenge the issue, and described the NAACP’s ridiculous argument that the legislature equated to illegitimate “usurpers” because of gerrymandering as an argument that didn’t even merit consideration by this panel.
So, despite the order, things today are largely the same – ballots are not yet being printed until the cases are fully resolved via likely appeals.
We’ll bring you more as developments arise.