Politics & Government

NC judge throws out voter ID and income tax constitutional amendments

Protesters oppose voter ID bill during legislative special session

NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
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NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

A judge has just thrown out two amendments to the North Carolina Constitution that voters approved in November.

One of the amendments was to implement a voter ID requirement, and the other was a cap on the state income tax rate.

The North Carolina General Assembly is so gerrymandered that its members don’t truly represent the people of the state and thus should never have proposed constitutional amendments in the first place, Wake County Superior Court Judge G. Bryan Collins wrote in his ruling that was issued late Friday afternoon.

“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,” he wrote.

When the legislature wrote the amendments and voted to place them on the 2018 ballot, many of the members who voted to do so had been elected under district lines that were ruled unconstitutional because they had been drawn to dilute the political power of African-American voters.

“We are delighted that the acts of the previous majority, which came to power through the use of racially discriminatory maps, have been checked,” N.C. NAACP president Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman said in a press release after the ruling was issued. “The prior General Assembly’s attempt to use its ill-gotten power to enshrine a racist photo voter ID requirement in the state constitution was particularly egregious, and we applaud the court for invalidating these attempts at unconstitutional overreach.”

The amendments were backed by Republican lawmakers, and on Friday N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said in a written statement to The News & Observer that he thinks the ruling should be overturned.

“These amendments were placed on the ballot and passed by an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians,” Hayes said. “This unprecedented and absurd ruling by a liberal judge is the very definition of judicial activism.”

The voter ID amendment passed with 55.5 percent of the vote while the amendment to cap the state income tax received 57 percent of the vote.

A previous effort to institute voter ID rules was struck down as unconstitutional, after a federal court found the law was written to intentionally “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

And although legislators made some changes in the new version of the voter ID rules approved in 2018, Spearman on Friday called it “straight out of the playbook from our state’s shameful past of institutional racism, and we are glad the judiciary has stepped in to stop it in its tracks.”

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Martin Warf, an attorney representing the General Assembly, said in an email Friday that “an appeal is absolutely coming.”

Senate leader Phil Berger, in a written statement, said: “We are duty-bound to appeal this absurd decision. The prospect of invalidating 18 months of laws is the definition of chaos and confusion. Based on tonight’s opinion and others over the past several years, it appears the idea of judicial restraint has completely left the state of North Carolina.”

Two other amendments that passed in November, which dealt with hunting rules and a proposal to give crime victims expanded rights in the court system, were not part of the lawsuit so were not affected by Friday’s ruling.

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Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, with a focus on state employees and agencies. In 2016 he started The News & Observer’s fact-checking partnership, PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local governments around the Triangle. Contact him at wdoran@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-2858.
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