N.C. legislators lose in court – again

N.C. Sen. Phil Berger’s fight for an abortion ultrasound bill proved costly and fruitless, as expected.
N.C. Sen. Phil Berger’s fight for an abortion ultrasound bill proved costly and fruitless, as expected. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Back in 2011, the Observer’s editorial board urged North Carolina’s legislature not to pass an invasive measure on abortion. In addition to many, many other things, it required doctors to perform ultrasounds on women, show them the images and describe them in great detail – whether the women wanted any of this or not. It didn’t even make an exception for victims of rape.

Once it passed, we urged Gov. Bev Perdue to veto it, and once she did we argued that the legislature should sustain the veto of a law that would surely run into trouble in the courts.

But the Republican leaders cared not whether their law was constitutional. They wanted to play to their base on a hot social issue, regardless of how much it would cost taxpayers to defend it. They overrode the veto.

When federal Judge Catherine Eagles struck down the law, we said the state should not appeal. Senate leader Phil Berger and Thom Tillis, then the House Speaker, said in a joint statement: “We expect the Attorney General to quickly move forward with an appeal of this provision... We remain confident that the state will prevail on the merits of the case through an appeal.”

They were wrong. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court let Eagles’ ruling stand without comment. The ultrasound law, pushed hard by former Mecklenburg Rep. Ruth Samuelson, is null and void. Last December, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel affirmed Eagles’ ruling, and today the highest court let that appeals ruling stand. The appeals court had said legislators erred in “transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state...”

Even Gov. Pat McCrory, who has twice broken his 2012 campaign promise not to sign further abortion restrictions into law, recognized the folly of appealing the ultrasound ruling. After Eagles issued her opinion, McCrory said, “I do not believe costly and drawn out litigation should be continued” on the ultrasound provision.

But Berger and Tillis pushed on, and today the Supreme Court proved their quest the folly that so many knew it was. It’s important to take note of such court rulings, because Republican legislators have repeatedly passed laws that play to their gerrymandered base but are flatly unconstitutional. If they are going to score political points upon passage, it should be noted when their actions are later slapped down.

Republicans in the legislature has kept lawyers busy since taking control in 2010. From voting restrictions to a “Choose Life” license plate to the Charlotte airport to Amendment One, legislators have passed laws that tie up the courts for years, and typically lose. Add the ultrasound provision to the list.

--Taylor Batten