NC’s regrettable use of $8 million

The Observer editorial board

Legislators’ fight to require photo ID costs millions and counting in legal fees.
Legislators’ fight to require photo ID costs millions and counting in legal fees. 2012 AP FILE PHOTO

We’ve long wondered what the legislature’s wrong-headed laws are costing North Carolina, both in reputation and in taxpayer dollars to defend them in court.

It may be impossible to put a precise dollar figure on the state’s reputation, but we now know the legal cost: More than $8 million.

The Associated Press reported last week that the Republican-led General Assembly has budgeted $4 million a year for the next two years to pay outside lawyers to defend controversial N.C. laws.

The legislature’s outside legal costs have totaled more than $3 million just since July 2014, the AP reported, mostly to defend its election reform bill that included photo ID and other provisions.

Republican leaders say they question whether Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper will vigorously defend the laws in question, considering he is running for governor against Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature’s conservative policies.

That’s understandable, given Cooper’s sometimes outspoken and transparently political opposition to those laws.

A wasteful pattern

The shame, though, is that the legislature has passed so many suspect laws, and persisted in defending them even, at times, in the face of certain defeat. The policies hurt the state, and the legal tab dings taxpayers’ wallets.

The legislature put Amendment One targeting gay marriage on the 2012 ballot. It was later struck down repeatedly as North Carolina continued to fight for it. Lawmakers passed an anti-abortion bill with an onerous ultrasound requirement. That too was struck down.

They created a “Choose Life” license plate while refusing to offer a plate promoting another view. That was struck down by two federal courts before being sent back by the U.S. Supreme Court for further review.

This summer, legislators passed a bill allowing magistrates and clerks of court to opt out of any involvement with a same-sex marriage. That could face a legal challenge. Charlotte-Douglas International Airport has been in legal limbo for years. Three redistricting lawsuits are ongoing.

And the fate of the voter ID bill continues to be argued in federal court, even after the legislature tacitly acknowledged its flaws by passing new provisions watering down the photo ID requirements.

The $8 million for legal bills, Wake County Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar told the AP, is designed to ensure “that the will of the people’s representatives prevail.”

But judges, from the U.S. Supreme Court on down, have repeatedly found the legislature’s will to be unacceptable.

That matters not to legislators, who can just take taxpayer money to continue to fight.