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Legislature done; let the lawyering begin

At least one group is unhappy to see the 2013 N.C. legislature end. From voting restrictions to abortion restrictions to, perhaps, the heist of Charlotte’s airport, lawmakers have set our state up for some serious time on future court dockets. Call it the Lawyers Full Employment Act of 2013.

But it could cost North Carolina in ways more significant than attorneys’ fees.

Already, the U.S. Department of Justice seems to have its eye on us – specifically the voter ID legislation N.C. lawmakers passed last week. The bill, which Gov. Pat McCrory says he will sign into law, mandates some of the harshest limits in the country on voters. It has reportedly caught the interest of the Obama administration, which this week promised to challenge states that inappropriately change voting rights laws.

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he’ll ask a federal court to require advance approval for Texas voting changes under a clause in the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court left untouched last month. Of that move, Holder promised: “It won’t be our last.”

Also in the legal crosshairs is North Carolina’s abortion bill, which McCrory also will sign into law, breaking his 2012 campaign promise. That will likely prompt lawsuits similar to those in several states with recently passed abortion restrictions. Already, a lawsuit is pending in federal courts from North Carolina’s 2011 law that required doctors to show women an ultrasound and describe the images before an abortion.

Meanwhile, education advocates are promising litigation against a state budget that eliminated tenure and gave tax dollars for private school vouchers. And let’s not forget that North Carolina is headed to court for a gay rights lawsuit that will be expanded to include the state’s 2012 ban on gay marriage.

All of which might help keep the lawyers well fed – but will be costly to North Carolina. Our state will continue to grab headlines for the wrong reasons, much as we did this summer with the national play we received for being the first state to cut off federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. Now, with abortion and voting restrictions and gay marriage bans, the Tar Heel state will get lumped in with other regressive states, including the Southern neighbors from which we once stood out. That’s not the kind of brand that attracts the elite businesses we want.

Republicans don’t seem to care much about that – or they naively believe that lower taxes is all businesses notice. Lawmakers do, however, seem to know the lawsuits are coming. In the final hours of session Friday, they attached a provision to a health care bill that would give legislative leaders equal standing with the attorney general to intervene in cases involving constitutional challenges to state law.

Republicans know that current Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, might not want anything to do with defending the state against voter ID and abortion lawsuits. On Friday, Cooper urged McCrory on Friday not to sign the voter ID bill.

Certainly, Cooper could be positioning himself for a 2016 gubernatorial run. Or he could be acknowledging that the bill, like too many others this session, is wrong, perhaps indefensible. So now the lawyering begins. And now, we’ll see how much it costs us.

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