Judge Strikes Down NC Voter ID Constitutional Amendment Passed by Voters

On Friday, a North Carolina state court judge struck down North Carolina's voter ID constitutional amendment, which passed in November with over 55% approval by the state's voters.  The judge's rationale was particularly strange and troubling:

A North Carolina judge on Friday voided new state mandates requiring photo identification to vote and also limiting income tax rates. He ruled the GOP-controlled legislature lacked authority to put those constitutional amendments on the ballot because lawmakers had been elected from racially-biased districts two years earlier.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins sided with the state NAACP, which had argued that General Assembly was “illegally constituted” because federal judges had declared the district maps used in the 2016 legislative elections illegal racial gerrymanders.

Even the liberal Charlotte Observer editorial board, which opposes both voter ID and Republican "gerrymandering," found the judge's reasoning untenable:

There was a smattering of celebratory emails from progressive groups Friday, but Democrats largely circled the ruling warily, poking at it intellectually and asking the obvious question: Is it too good to be true?

It might not be good at all. . . .

It’s a reach of legal logic, a ruling that appears more like progressive fist-pounding than something that should come from the bench. It also prompts a follow-up question: If, as Collins contends, gerrymandering strips the General Assembly of the authority to amend the N.C. constitution, wouldn’t it also render invalid any laws these same legislators pass? . . .

Those same Republicans have now been handed a gift from Collins — a real-life example that overreaching judges want to bend the constitution for progressive purposes. . . . But on Friday, Collins tainted legitimate court decisions by allowing Republicans to point to one fantastical ruling. He did North Carolinians, liberal or conservative, no favors.

North Carolina Republicans were quick to point out the radical nature of this decision:

“One man with a political axe to grind invalidated millions of votes and potentially dozens of laws, including the state budget,” Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican, said in referring to Collins, a registered Democrat.

Republicans plan to appeal:

The amendments were backed by Republican lawmakers, and on Friday N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said in a written statement to The News & Observer that he thinks the ruling should be overturned.

“These amendments were placed on the ballot and passed by an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians,” Hayes said. “This unprecedented and absurd ruling by a liberal judge is the very definition of judicial activism.” . . . 

Martin Warf, an attorney representing the General Assembly, said in an email Friday that “an appeal is absolutely coming.”

Senate leader Phil Berger, in a written statement, said: “We are duty-bound to appeal this absurd decision. The prospect of invalidating 18 months of laws is the definition of chaos and confusion. Based on tonight’s opinion and others over the past several years, it appears the idea of judicial restraint has completely left the state of North Carolina.”

While judges have used a variety of rationale to strike down voter ID laws, this ruling strains even liberals' credulity, who recognize that invalidating several years of a legislature's actions based on a controversial court decision on redistricting would damage the reputation of the courts, create a separation of powers crisis within the state, and harm the state government and North Carolina citizens in many ways (as Sen. Hise points out, no money appropriated by the legislature in the past two years would be lawfully spent under the judge's reasoning).  Yet, in their efforts to undo the will of the people exercised at the ballot box in approving a voter ID law, those dangers are precisely what some liberal organizations are willing to face.