Democracy 101: Court Sidelines Controversial Amendments, But For How Long?

Democracy 101: Court Sidelines Controversial Amendments, But For How Long?

5:03pm Aug 22, 2018
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore listens during a special session at the General Assembly in July. Moore is among the defendants who appealed a lower court decision striking down two proposed constitutional amendments that, if approved by voters, would limit some of Gov. Roy Cooper's power. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

This is part of our election-year civics series, Democracy 101Click here to find more of our stories about important issues in North Carolina politics.

This week, a three-judge panel struck down two of the most controversial proposed constitutional amendments meant for the November ballot.

But the fight is not over, as Republican leaders are calling a special session to rework the language in the proposed amendments.

In this edition of Democracy 101, WFDD’s Sean Bueter sits down with reporter Paul Garber to talk about these amendments, and what’s at stake.

Interview Highlights

On what the two amendments the court ruled on would do:

Well, both of those [amendments that were blocked] would have taken powers currently held by the governor and given them to the legislators. They involve who gets to fill judicial vacancies and also who gets to make appointments to the state's various boards and committees. The judges determined that the language on the ballot did not adequately alert voters that the governor's powers would be diminished if they passed.

On the history of  controversial constitutional amendments in North Carolina:

There have been 16 of them since 1996. And all of them have passed. What's different this time is the scale of them: to have six at one time is different. And it's sparking a controversy unlike any I've seen, as far as constitutional amendments go, since Amendment One. That was a ballot initiative that put a statewide vote to whether or not marriage should be defined as being between a man and a woman. It passed, but has since been ruled unconstitutional, although it is still a part of our state constitution.

And so what we've seen here is huge, heated battles. You have the state GOP chairman saying if these are blocked then judges should potentially be impeached – that's not something I've seen a lot of support for from his fellow GOPers.

On the other side you have critics questioning why these are needed. Seems to be, to them, that it's just a method of consolidating what power the GOP has in the state. And they don't see what benefit the voters get from it.

On what's at stake as stake as Republicans call a new session to change the amendments' wording:

One of the big things is the balance of power in North Carolina, and this has been an ongoing debate since that time between when Gov. Roy Cooper was elected and when he actually was sworn in. [At the time] the legislature – which is run by the GOP – started making some changes to how powerful he would be. [These amendments] essentially take that out of the GOPs hands and lets voters decide in a way.

And so that's why the language of how it's shown to voters is so very, very important, because it would seriously change the balance of power in Raleigh if they were both passed.

(Ed.: This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity. This story was also updated Thursday at 2:00 p.m. to reflect new information on the intent of Republican leaders in the NCGA.)

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