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In courtrooms in Raleigh this week, judges are hearing arguments they shouldn’t have to hear.
Gov. Roy Cooper, the NAACP, Clean Air Carolina and a couple of judicial candidates — one for the Supreme Court — are arguing for various reasons that some or all of the amendments placed on the ballot this fall by the General Assembly should be removed from the ballot and that all judicial candidates’ party affiliations should be on the ballot.
This is political and judicial theater that is both comedy and tragedy but, more importantly, a show that should not have taken the stage in the first place.
First, this is a really bad script: These six potential amendments to the state’s constitution — two taking appointments from the governor, one requiring voters to produce IDs, one to lower the state’s income tax ceiling, one about rights for crime victims and one to be sure you know hunting and fishing are a right — are not worthy of constitutional status. You will hear and read that dozens of times between now and Nov. 6. They shouldn’t be on the ballot.
The cast: Republicans who dominate the General Assembly, led by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Eden, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Kings Mountain, play villainous roles for their tricks and manipulations. Cooper, a Democrat, tries to be a hero, but he is often wounded in battle. Supreme Court candidate Chris Anglin and Wake district court candidate Rebecca Edwards are supporting actors.
Bad acting: There are plenty of ham-handed performances and ugly scenes, such as Republicans introducing these amendments in the last week of the general session, without public debate. Then there was the commission created by statute to write ballot descriptions for these amendments. Legislators rushed back into session to change the law so that they, not that commission, would write those descriptions. When Cooper vetoed that bill, lawmakers returned Saturday to override that veto. That generated the various lawsuits, which argue that those efforts mislead voters with imprecise wording.
Direction: But wait, the amendment language wasn’t sufficient to require a special session, so lawmakers threw in a 2-for-1 deal for ticketholders: They passed a law removing the party designation for judicial candidates who switched parties within 90 days of the filing deadline. This appeared targeted at Anglin, a Democrat-cum-Republican in a three-person field, and Edwards, who switched to Democrat. Lawmakers had directed judicial races to be partisan and held without primary elections.
The reviews: The rushes on this “dramedy” are based on the calendar. Today is the deadline for language on constitutional amendments to be approved and for candidates to drop off ballots, which are to be mailed on Sept. 7. Whatever merit judges give these claims must be decided quickly. Anglin already has been granted a hearing for Monday on whether his rights were violated. His argument appears to have merit.
The outlook: This production can’t be allowed to tour polling places across North Carolina. Bad ideas introduced without public input always create bad policy. Individually targeted legislation is simply unconstitutional. This should be curtains, but maybe there is a future for an adaptation of this production — on the Game Show Network.