Democracy 101: North Carolina's Constitutional Amendments

Democracy 101: North Carolina's Constitutional Amendments

4:02pm Aug 14, 2018
In this May file photo, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and House Speaker Tim Moore pause prior to a news conference in Raleigh. In a closely divided North Carolina, an intense power struggle between Republican lawmakers and Cooper will spill over to voting booths this fall. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

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.

Lawyers for Gov. Roy Cooper are appearing in court Wednesday in what will be the latest round in an ongoing power struggle between the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

The argument centers around several constitutional amendments that, if allowed onto the November ballot and approved by voters, would put new restrictions on the governor’s executive power.

But what exactly is a constitutional amendment? And why have these latest proposals become so controversial?

In this new installment of our series “Democracy 101” – which explains the role of politics and government in North Carolina – WFDD’s Sean Bueter sat down with Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer to find out more about what’s shaping the highest law in the state.

Interview Highlights

On what the state constitution is, and its relationship to the U.S. Constitution:

The way that I describe it is, basically, the constitution lays out the rules of the game. And in state law the state constitution is considered to be the highest law, other than the U.S. Constitution. And if any state constitutional amendment contradicts the federal constitution then the federal constitution wins. But for the most part, with most state laws, the state constitution is the supreme law of the state.

On the most controversial of the six amendments that have been proposed:

Well, probably one of the most considered ones is the voter I.D. amendment. That basically says that North Carolina citizens – if they wish to vote – have to present a photo identification of some kind.

Now, the question and the controversy is over what kind of photo ID is going to be required. So there's a lot of questions surrounding that one.

I think the other major [measures that are] really causing a lot of controversy [are] a fight between the legislature and the governor. And we've seen this in other instances. But two of the amendments deal with that specifically.

One is a bipartisan elections board and the power to appoint to that board is basically being taken over by the legislature.

The other one has to deal with appointments, as well, and that's for filling judicial vacancies. And again, that power is being taken from the governor [and given] to the legislature.

On his reaction to seeing all five former living N.C. governors come out against the amendments that shift executive power:

It was astounding to me, in this era of deep partisan gridlock and polarization, to see all the former living governors – Republicans and Democrats – coming together to say basically "no" to the amendments and particularly [those that] strip gubernatorial power and move it back into the legislature.

To see all of those individuals that had served as the state's chief executive really made a very profound statement, with all of them coming out and strongly opposing these amendments.

(Ed.: This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.)

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