Bar Exams in the Pandemic JURIST Digital Scholars
North Carolina appeals court upholds 2018 referenda on constitutional amendments
© WikiMedia (Chanilim714)
North Carolina appeals court upholds 2018 referenda on constitutional amendments

The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld two constitutional amendments from 2018 referenda.

During its 2017-2018 session, the North Carolina General Assembly proposed various amendments to the state constitution to be put on the 2018 ballot. Voters passed two of these amendments. One amendment lowered the maximum North Carolina income tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent. The other amendment required the General Assembly to enact a law to require voters to present a valid photo ID.

In response to the passage of the amendments, the North Carolina State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit claiming that the General Assembly lacked the authority to put the amendments on the ballot. The NAACP asserted that, though the General Assembly would normally have authority to propose amendments, these amendment proposals were invalid because a 2017 federal court decision ruled that 28 of the 170 General Assembly members were elected via illegal gerrymandering. The trial court agreed with the NAACP and ruled that the proposed amendments were void for the General Assembly’s lack of legitimate authority at the time of the proposal.

The North Carolina Appeals Court reversed the trial court’s decision, finding that the gerrymandering ruling did not preclude the General Assembly from exercising its constitutionally granted powers to propose amendments:

We conclude that the [trial] court erred in holding that our General Assembly lost its power granted by our state constitution, while retaining other powers, simply because a federal court had determined that the maps contained too many majority-minority districts, such that some members elected to that body were from districts that were illegally gerrymandered based on race. It is simply beyond our power to thwart the otherwise lawful exercise of constitutional power by our legislative branch to pass bills proposing amendments. Accordingly, we reverse the … order of the [trial] court and declare the challenged constitutional amendments duly ratified by the people to be valid.

The Appeals Court’s decision was not unanimous, however. Judge Dillon authored the opinion, and Judge Stroud concurred. Judge Young dissented.

The North Carolina NAACP president intends to appeal the decision. President Anthony Spearman stated, “We are thrilled to bring this historic case to the Supreme Court of North Carolina to ensure that the people’s voice is heard and that the foundational principles of our democracy and our constitution is preserved and protected.”