Politics & Government

Cooper, NAACP both lose their lawsuits against NC legislators over constitutional amendments

N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore
N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore ehyman@newsobserver.com

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North Carolina constitutional amendments

Coverage from The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun of the constitutional amendments you’ll vote on in the November 2018 elections.

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North Carolina voters this November will likely be able to vote on all six constitutional amendments that Republican legislators want them to approve. That’s because on Tuesday the N.C. Supreme Court handed losses to two lawsuits challenging the amendments.

The court ruled against Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in his lawsuit over two potential amendments that would take power away from the governor’s office, and give that power to the legislature, late on Tuesday afternoon. Earlier in the day the court had also declined to hear an appeal from the North Carolina NAACP, which had sued over two different amendments that would create a new voter ID law and lower the state’s maximum possible income tax rate.

The NC legislature is placing six constitutional amendments on the fall ballot. Here's a look at what North Carolinians will be voting on.

Cooper had beaten the General Assembly in one lawsuit over the amendments earlier this month, when his legal team successfully argued that the Republican-led General Assembly had written misleading language to be presented to voters on the ballot this November.

The legislature quickly reconvened and approved some changes. Cooper sued again, saying they hadn’t done enough, but he lost at trial that second time around, even though N.C. Solicitor General Matt Sawchack said at the trial that the elections board still believes the ballot questions could mislead voters.

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Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling affirmed the trial court’s decision in favor of the legislators.

The N.C. GOP celebrated Cooper’s loss in an email Tuesday, with Chairman Robin Hayes saying “Republicans want to allow voters a say regarding their state constitution and it’s disappointing that the Governor believes citizens are unable to understand the amendments for themselves. However, we believe the people of North Carolina are fully capable of understanding the amendments and will give all them due consideration this November.”

Reacting to the NAACP’s loss in the other lawsuit, Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, told The News & Observer that “It’s now up to the people to decide if they want to join 34 other states in requiring identification when casting a ballot and if they want to prevent a return to the days of spendthrift politicians, high taxes and multibillion-dollar deficits by lowering the tax cap in our state constitution.”

The state’s last attempt to create a voter ID law was ruled unconstitutional in 2016, after it was found to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” according to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The NAACP was one of the groups that successfully sued then.

"Don't hijack our constitution," said Pat McCrory at a gathering of all five of NC's living former governors at the old Capitol on Monday. The group convened to warn voters about constitutional amendments that would shift power to the legislature

This time around, however, it’s unclear what the new attempt to create voter ID laws would actually do. Legislators have not yet written the details — which means voters this November won’t know exactly what they’re voting for or against.

The two decisions from the state’s highest court Tuesday also clear the way for the state to begin printing ballots for this November’s election.

The printing process has been held up by these and other lawsuits, and the state has already missed one deadline and has another deadline fast approaching, as the midterm elections get closer.

Josh Lawson, the election board’s lawyer, said in an email that the board can now start printing ballots and must have them ready by Sept. 22. In addition to the physical printing process, the state also has to conduct quality control testing to check for mistakes or defects.

Clearing up lawsuit confusion

The N.C. legislature and the upcoming 2018 elections have been subjected to a number of high-profile lawsuits in recent years. To help keep them all straight, here is a brief list of those lawsuits and their outcomes.

2018 federal gerrymandering lawsuit: The legislature lost, with a federal court ruling that North Carolina’s 13 districts for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are unconstitutionally gerrymandered for partisan gain. In 2016 Republican candidates for those seats won 53 percent of the total vote but took 10 of the 13 seats, due to gerrymandering. However, the state will use those maps in the November general election because the court, agreeing with the plaintiffs, on Tuesday ruled that it was too close to the election to change the maps without sowing confusion and possibly depressing turnout.

2016 federal gerrymandering lawsuit: The legislature lost, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that two U.S. Congressional districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. That court forced the legislature to draw new maps, which are the ones that were just overturned for being unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

2017 state-level gerrymandering lawsuit: The legislature lost, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that many of the districts used to elect members of the N.C. General Assembly were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The upcoming 2018 elections are being held using new districts that the court ordered drawn.

Cooper lawsuit over amendments: The legislature won, and will get to put two amendments changing the state’s balance of powers on the ballot this November.

NAACP lawsuit over amendments: The legislature won, and will get to put amendments regarding an income tax cap and a voter ID law on the ballot this November.

Chris Anglin lawsuit over N.C. Supreme Court candidacy: The legislature lost, and Anglin will be able to list his party affiliation on the ballot as a Republican, despite attempts from Republican lawmakers to stop him.

Cooper lawsuit over board appointments: The legislature lost, and a court stopped lawmakers’ attempts to seize the governor’s ability to appoint certain state government jobs. This lawsuit actually began under former Gov. Pat McCrory and carried on into Cooper’s tenure.

Voter ID lawsuit: The legislature lost, and Federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned North Carolina’s 2013 voter ID law, just before the 2016 elections, after finding that it was written with discriminatory intent to target African-American voters.

Colin Campbell contributed reporting.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
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