The ruling was stunning.
On February 22nd, Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins struck down two amendments that were approved by North Carolina voters back in November: Capping the income tax rate, and voter ID.
The two other amendments voters passed statewide — one that protected the right to hunt and fish, and the other to strengthen the rights of victims — weren’t touched.
But the rationale given by Judge Collins for invalidating the other two was what sent shock waves across the state. Even some of the best legal minds in North Carolina could not make sense of it.
“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,” Collins ruled. The North Carolina state legislature, he said in a ruling that favored the state NAACP, was in and of itself illegal.
Republican leaders were quick to denounce the ruling and made clear immediately that they intended to appeal.
“We are duty-bound to appeal this absurd decision,” Senate Leader Phil Berger said in a statement. “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.” The statement also referred to Collins as a “Democratic Wake County trial judge.”
This is something Republicans in this state have long asserted, that many of the rulings issued against them over the last several years have been politically motivated in nature. The accusation has not been without merit, when you consider a number of judicial decisions handed down against Republican legislative leaders have come from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is packed with President Obama’s judicial appointees.
Lawsuit-happy Democrats, in contrast, have in the past reacted to the accusations by blasting Republicans for “attacking the judiciary”, insisting the rulings were fair and just, and in no way motivated by politics.
But thanks to Judge Collins’s overreaching decision, some state Democrats and Democrat-friendly media outlets are finally admitting there is such a thing as liberal judicial activism.
District 37 Senator Jeff Jackson initially seemed to favor the ruling, saying Collins “just threw out two of the new constitutional amendments … because the General Assembly is so deeply gerrymandered that it doesn’t truly represent the state.”
A few days later after giving it some thought, he came down against it. “Even though it is probably in my political interest to embrace this ruling, I can’t,” Jackson wrote the following Sunday afternoon on Twitter. “I don’t believe the ends justify the means and in this case the means would be establishing a bad legal precedent.”
If it stands, it would also cancel out the election day victories of some of his Democratic legislative colleagues, which the Senator didn’t mention.
The editorial board at the Charlotte Observer, which is normally a mouthpiece of praise on Democratic judicial victories, even sounded the alarm bells about Judge Collins’s decision.
“It’s a reach of legal logic, a ruling that appears more like progressive fist-pounding than something that should come from the bench,” the liberal editorial board wrote. “…Republicans have now been handed a gift from Collins — a real-life example that overreaching judges want to bend the constitution for progressive purposes.”
That sounds a little like “attacking the judiciary”, doesn’t it?
Here’s what the issue really is for Jackson, the Charlotte Observer, and others on the left who (reluctantly) agree with their assessments: The precedent set by this bad ruling means that — if it stands — the next time Democrats control the state legislature, it could also happen to them.
Because if they get the chance, they’ll be doing the same thing they did during their decades of control of the General Assembly, what they’ve accused Republicans of doing since they took control:
For all the North Carolina left’s virtue signaling about “gerrymandering” and so-called “fair maps”, what they’d really like is to go into a future Democrat-controlled state legislature with all payback options available. In laying all the cards out on the table, and by setting a bad precedent, Judge Collins has made being able to do that under the guise of “fairness” a little more difficult.
Though the reasons given are superficial and self-serving, it’s still good to see Democrats — at least in theory — finally agreeing with Republicans on the need for judicial restraint.
Now if only Republicans could also convince them of the need for restraint when it comes to their mass filing of lawsuits against the state legislature in first place.
Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.