Charlotte Observer: Supreme Court Oks Amendments, but They Still Smell
September 4, 2018
The Supreme Court wouldn’t block constitutional amendments, so now it’s up to voters to do so.
The NC Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for two contested amendments to appear on November’s ballot. That leaves voters as the last line of defense against power-hungry legislators who want to throw out a separation of powers that has served this state well for generations.
These can seem like arcane, complicated matters, so the question is whether most voters will take the time to consider the full implications of approving each amendment. Amendment opponents, including all five living former NC governors of both parties, will have to campaign vigorously for there to be any chance that they do.
The two amendments at issue are both designed to take significant power away from the governor and give it to the legislature. Amassing power in one branch should concern voters whatever their political party, because checks and balances are essential to responsible government. Besides, who’s in charge of which branch can change at any time.
The amendments, if approved by voters, pull off a tricky feat: They would bypass the courts and make constitutional what the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional in recent balance-of-power decisions.
Republicans responded to an earlier court ruling by improving the amendments’ language just enough to satisfy the court. But these are still badly flawed proposals that will hurt the state.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether legislators were being adequately transparent with the language that will appear on the ballot. Gov. Roy Cooper argued that the wording left out all kinds of important detail, including the amendments’ true motives. The court sided with legislative leaders, who said the wording adequately and accurately explains what the amendments will do.
The ballot language on the elections board amendment leaves out tremendous detail. The judicial vacancy amendment goes into greater detail but is worded in a complicated and confusing way. (There will be four other amendments on the ballot as well, including two the NAACP unsuccessfully fought before the Supreme Court.) They clearly were written by legislators to give them the best chance of passage, but not with so much spin as to be illegal in the eyes of the court.
The first amendment would change the makeup of the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement and how it is appointed. It would take away the governor’s appointment power to that board and give it to the legislature, and cut the board from nine members to eight.
The second amendment would change the way judicial vacancies are filled. Right now the governor fills those vacancies with input from practicing attorneys in the Bar. Under the amendment, the legislature would essentially fill vacancies with their preferred candidates, and could leave them there for a longer period before those interim judges face election.
These may seem like dense, far-afield questions. In fact, they are hugely consequential for how this state is governed, and voters need to put in the effort to cast an educated vote.
Star News: Keep N.C. government in balance, accountable
September 2, 2018
When all of the state’s living former governors, including Pat McCrory, and all of the state’s former chief justices, including arch-conservative I. Beverly Lake Jr., come out against something unanimously, chances are it’s a bad idea.
Even the General Assembly had to notice — especially after it lost a lawsuit. So, they’re trying a makeover.
In our last episode, North Carolina’s legislature threw six constitutional amendments in front of voters for November.
Most were a rather sketchy lot. Some — for example, one to create a constitutional right to hunt and fish “traditionally” — seemed designed to get the Republican base to the polls in a midterm election.
Two were especially pernicious. One would have stripped the governor of the power to appoint members of most state boards and commissions. Another provided that the legislators, not the governor, would fill court vacancies that occur between elections.
These are the measures the governors and the chief justices opposed, arguing that they would wreck the state’s separation of powers and prove baldly political.
Then a panel of three state judges, responding to a lawsuit by Gov. Roy Cooper, threw these two amendments off the ballot, ruling that the wording was vague and misleading.
(Since the legalese text needed to make the amendments actual laws is too long, only a short description is on the ballot. Cooper argued that the descriptions the legislature wrote didn’t fairly describe what the two amendments would actually do. The judges agreed.)
So, our Honorables pulled themselves into special session yet again and gave the descriptions a makeover. The revised versions are less odious than the originals, but still bad.
In regards to the courts, one amendment would set up a complex network with a “Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission” and several local merit boards to come up with nominees. In the end, however, for any vacancy, the governor could only pick from a list of two candidates — both chosen by the legislature.
The other amendment left most of the governor’s appointment powers intact — except for the state ethics and elections board. Here, the governor would have to choose from a list again — this one drawn up by the party leaders in the legislature.
Moreover, the amendment would reduce the board to eight members, effectively four Democrats and four Republicans. (Currently, the board has nine members, the ninth required to be unaffiliated with any party.)
Since those board members would be nominated by legislative honchos, it’s safe to say they’d be fierce and loyal partisans. Which means that almost any vexing political question before the “reformed” board would result in a 4-4 split.
Which means that the results of any closely contested election would almost certainly wind up in the courts. Which (if the other amendment passes) would be staffed by loyal members of the majority party in the legislature.
Cooper is right; this is still a bald, partisan power play that would weaken state government, leaving it more venal and more vulnerable to corruption. Regardless of which party holds the executive office, we need to preserve a legitimate balance of power in state government. That is why Republican former governors — including Pat McCrory, who’s not exactly a big fan of the current governor — spoke out.
If these two amendments ever do make it to the ballot, voters should reject them outright.
News & Record: North Carolina’s proposed constitutional amendments need to be defeated
August 28, 2018
The General Assembly really wants to amend the state constitution. Legislators really want to get their words on the ballot, so you can ratify them in November and allow those words to permit lawmakers to take more control of your lives. And that, in simple words, is what all this wrangling about wording in Raleigh has been about this past month.
Catch your breath and get ready for another riff: In June, on the last day of the General Assembly’s short session, lawmakers passed, without input from any delegate who isn’t designated with an “R,” those six amendments they want you to consider, giving legislators control of appointments for the judiciary and for commissions that the governor now has; enacting a photo ID framework for voters; lowering the cap of the state income tax rate; protecting the rights of crime victims and a reinforcement of your right to hunt and fish.
But in late July legislators realized that the three-person commission responsible for writing the language you would see on the ballot was controlled by two elected Democrats. So they did what they typically do: called a special session, changed that law and wrote descriptions themselves. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed that change, forcing another special session to override his veto.
Cooper and two other groups then successfully sued to remove the two amendments that took away the governor’s powers. So, rather than appeal that ruling to the state Supreme Court, the legislature was back Friday and Monday to write new amendments and apparently bypass the court ruling by making substantive changes to that wording, including restoring some control to Cooper. We say “apparently” because there have been three special sessions and two court hearings in less than 60 days. Never mind that all five living former governors and six former chief justices think these amendments are bad ideas. Never mind that state Republican Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse actually suggested any justices who ruled against legislators perhaps should be impeached. That was the tactic in West Virginia, of all role models.
OK, sing this chorus with us: This is ridiculous to the sublime because none of these amendments rises to the level of constitutional protection and are only being used to verify future political power. None should be on your ballot, no matter how they are described, and they form an insultingly bad idea regardless of which party is in charge. They represent a power grab in four cases and bad government in five of them. That hunting and fishing amendment is a tip to the NRA. It has no other purpose.
Mail ballots are legally required to be in the sent by Sept. 7, and this thrust-and-parry has gone right to the hilt against the clock. At some point time will determine outcome over logic and principle.
So — and here is that word again — apparently you will have to make the value judgment to reject them. You will have to take the time to school yourself and your friends about what you actually are reading. These “ballot captions” are badly written in the extreme.
And you should vote against these six amendments and then perhaps vote against some of the people who are trying to manipulate you to pass them. The grab for power here is not in the best interest of anyone in North Carolina, no matter your party.
Winston-Salem Journal: Reject the six amendments
August 29, 2018
In another twist to the soap opera that we call the state legislature, Republican leaders have revamped two of the six constitutional amendments they’re forcing onto the November ballot, thus negating the legal issues that arose with their previous versions.
The changes are only cosmetic, though. The new versions would still be damaging to our state. Gov. Roy Cooper is still trying to block them, and his challenge should prevail.
“Both amendments, if approved by voters in November, would take the power to appoint members of the state elections and ethics board from the executive and give it to the legislature,” The Associated Press reported. “One also would swing power held by the governor to fill judicial vacancies to the legislature.”
The legislature has had a habit of trying to siphon power from the governor’s office ever since a Democrat won it in 2016. Five former governors, Republicans and Democrats, along with six former chief justices, denounced the two amendments in their previous versions. The intent of the amendments hasn’t changed.
Republican legislators have often clashed with the powers of the executive and judiciary branches — a division of power instituted to prevent abuses — and rather than be tempered by constitutional limitations, attempted to pull more power in their own hands. We’re surprised these legislators haven’t simply tried to abolish the other branches of government — and hope suggesting so doesn’t give them ideas.
Last week, State Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse hinted that any justices who ruled against legislators perhaps should be impeached. Ironically, he said that using their power to rule against the legislature’s attempt to gain more power would be “an evisceration of separation of powers.”
No. That’s not how that works.
In addition to these two power-grabbing amendments, the legislature plans to put four others on the ballot: enacting a photo ID framework for voters; lowering the cap of the state income tax rate; protecting the rights of crime victims and reinforcing our right to hunt and fish.
These may be issues worth discussing and even legislating on, but there hasn’t been much discussion, just a rush to put them on the ballot without educating the public about their merits. None of the six are pertinent enough to be made indelible in our state constitution.
Also announced this week, the legislature has given up its legal appeal to prevent state Supreme Court candidate Chris Anglin from running for office as a Republican. It essentially tried to change the rules of the election after the election had begun. It’s uncharacteristic of the legislature to cut its losses. Maybe its members are beginning to realize that they don’t have to force every battle to the hilt.
But the show’s not over yet. Forgive us if we don’t relax until after Nov. 6, if then.
The six constitutional amendments will likely still be on the ballot, so it will be up to voters to educate themselves, as well as their friends and neighbors, about their true purpose. Everyone should vote against them, and then perhaps vote against some of the people who are trying to manipulate us into passing them. This hungry grab for more and more power is not in the best interest of anyone in North Carolina, no matter the party.