Republican leaders of North Carolina's legislature acted unethically - if not unconstitutionally - in the middle of the night Thursday.
Led by House Speaker Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg County, Republicans voted to stop teachers who belong to the N.C. Association of Teachers from having dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.
Aside from whether it's good policy to single out one organization for different treatment from all others, the dark-of-night vote was exactly the kind of disregard for transparency that fuels voters' disgust with politicians.
Gov. Bev Perdue had called legislators back into session to consider her veto of a bill gutting the Racial Justice Act. Article III, Section 5 of the N.C. Constitution spells out that at such a session, "the General Assembly may only consider such bills as were returned by the Governor to that reconvened session for reconsideration."
In other words, the legislature could only vote on Perdue's veto of Senate Bill 9, the bill undoing the Racial Justice Act. Republicans didn't have the votes to override that veto, though. So late Wednesday night they adjourned Perdue's veto session and called for another extra session to start at 12:45 Thursday morning. At 1:12 a.m., they voted on the teachers' dues veto.
If that's not unconstitutional, it's certainly an affront to the citizens of North Carolina, who don't need the public's business being done in the dead of night with no notice. We don't approve of that kind of legislating from either party, and we've criticized Democrats in the past when they've forced quick budget votes without giving the public time to digest what was being voted on.
This week's vote might also be unconstitutional. The constitution spells out three ways the legislature can be called into session and two of those are by the governor. For legislators to call themselves into session, three-fifths of members must agree. Tillis made no effort to secure that three-fifths; he just did it.
Tillis defended the whole ordeal. "Some people probably don't like the fact we're here tonight. But the fact of the matter is we got it done, we're out of here, we're saving money and going back home," he said.
He argued that the public should have known Republicans could force votes at 1 a.m. But unless you're tracking legislative doings at that hour, it's not clear how the public could have known. The Racial Justice Act bill was the only one on the agenda, and Republicans gave zero notice that they were calling a new special session that would start 90 minutes later.
Asked if he expected the public to be at the legislature at 1 a.m., Tillis paused and said: "They're welcome."
The whole affair should be "a learning experience," Tillis said.
It's a learning experience, all right. The voters of North Carolina have learned a lot about how underhanded this particular crop of legislative leaders can be, and that they scoff at the notion of transparency.