NC Supreme Court rules against gerrymandered legislature
The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the state’s legislature may not have had the power to pass amendments to the state’s constitution because the body was elected based on racially gerrymandered maps.
The court ruled 4-3 that the state constitution places limits on legislators’ ability to approve amendments, given that its structure is unconstitutional. The decision was split along party lines, with the four Democrats on the court making up the majority.
The ruling came after the state’s General Assembly passed legislation to propose six constitutional amendments to voters ahead of the 2018 general election, according to the ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that the assembly was made up of a “substantial” number of legislators representing districts that were unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered.
Two-thirds of the legislative districts needed to be redrawn to be in compliance with the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause ahead of the 2018 election, but the legislature acted with the old, gerrymandered districts in place just as the legislative session was ending.
The case focused on two of the amendments that the legislature passed. One requires voters to show photo identification to vote. The other prevents the state income tax from increasing above 7 percent. Voters approved those amendments in referendums.
Both amendments narrowly met the three-fifths requirement to pass both chambers of the legislature, but under the new district maps, voters in the 2018 election denied either party that much control of the state House and Senate.
North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls wrote in the majority opinion that some limits on the legislature’s authority are warranted in this case, but a lower court ruling was too broad in tossing aside the amendments. The ruling sent the case back to the lower court for a judge to decide the answers to a series of questions that can determine if the amendments can remain in effect.
The questions include if the amendments remaining would create a “substantial risk” that legislators elected in racially gerrymandered districts would be immune to democratic accountability and if they would continue the exclusion of a category of voters from the democratic process.