N.C. Court Cites Gerrymandering and Rules New Constitutional Amendments as Invalidby Katie Wadington, Asheville Citizen Times February 25, 2019
A Wake County court on Friday struck down two state constitutional amendments approved by voters in November, including one that mandated voters show ID at the polls, ruling that the General Assembly was “illegally constituted” because of gerrymandering.
In a case brought by the NC NAACP, Superior Court Judge G. Byron Collins ruled that an “unconstitutionally racially-gerrymandered General Assembly” could not place constitutional amendments on the ballot for ratification, calling its ability to do so an “unsettled question of state law.”
Collins specifically cites two amendments, involving voter ID and a tax cap.
Related: NC amendments: What voters approved
The ruling has its root in the status of congressional district maps that were ordered redrawn by the U.S. Supreme court in June 2017.
In August. federal judges affirmed an earlier decision striking North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional because Republicans drew them with excessive partisanship.
Acting under an order of the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine the case, the three-judge panel ruled in favor of election advocacy groups and Democrats who had sued to challenge the boundaries drawn in 2016.
“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,” Collins wrote in his opinion.
What voters approved in November
In November’s general election, voters OK’d a new constitutional amendment that will require North Carolina voters to show a photo ID before being allowed to cast ballots. Exact amendment language wasn’t set at the time, with legislators to decide later what will count as valid and what won’t.
That change to North Carolina’s constitution adds the state to the handful in the country that strictly require showing a photo ID to a poll worker when voting.
The tax cap amendment agreed to lower the maximum income tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent.
Collins noted that each passed the General Assembly by a slim margin over the required three-fifths majority, the voter ID amendment only two votes over that threshold in the House and three in the Senate, and the tax cap amendment by one vote over three-fifths in the House and four in the Senate. Looking to the high court’s ruling, “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.”
Therefore, he ruled, those amendments were invalid from the beginning.
The decision could be turned over on appeal.