Every once in a while, I read a news release that makes me go “wow!” I read this one twice–and I love it.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins struck downtwo of the state constitutional amendments passed by North Carolina voters last November. But the reason he gave for his decision was remarkable: in his view, the state legislature is so gerrymandered as to be an illegitimate body that doesn’t really represent voters, and thus had no authority to alter the state constitution.
“An illegally constituted General Assembly does not represent the people of North Carolina and is therefore not empowered to pass legislation that would amend the state’s constitution,” wrote Collins.
The amendments that were struck down by this ruling were an amendment requirement that voters present a strict photo ID at the polls, which is almost identical to a previous law a federal court said targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision,” and an amendment capping the state income tax rate at 7 percent, which was a huge gift to the wealthy that jeopardized the state budget.
North Carolina voters had approved four constitutional amendments in a referendum, and the Judge let two of them go into effect. He found that the legislature’s description of the two amendments he struck down had been misleading. (A court had previously invalidated an earlier draft of language explaining the amendments.)
North Carolina has been called the most aggressively gerrymandered state in the country, and a case challenging its current legislative and congressional districts will be heard by the Supreme Court during its next term.
The Judge’s decision will, of course, be appealed, and there is no telling what the final outcome will be, but the decision ranks right up there with the pronouncement by a clear-eyed child in the well-known story: “the Emperor has no clothes.”
A few days ago, I cited David Leonhardt’s column in the New York Times, in which he catalogued state legislative actions contrary to the clear desires of the relevant voters, and I compared those examples to the repeated refusal of Indiana’s lawmakers to act on the demonstrable wishes of Hoosier voters that they pass a hate crimes bill.
Thanks to the prevalence of gerrymandering (and assorted other political “dirty tricks” including vote suppression), America currently has several state legislatures that meet Judge Collins’ criteria for illegitimacy.
When the “clothing” of rhetoric is stripped away, the fact that we no longer have a genuine democracy is the “naked” truth.
Three cheers for Judge Collins and his willingness to call it like it is.