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NC court reverses judge on voter ID, income tax cap. Ruling doesn’t affect 2020 vote.
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NC court reverses judge on voter ID, income tax cap. Ruling doesn’t affect 2020 vote.

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Voter ID

Ben Currie shows his voter ID before voting in Greensboro in 2016. The ID requirement was later struck down by a federal appeals court.

RALEIGH — The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the state legislature had the authority in 2018 to place two Constitutional amendments on the ballot, one capping income tax and the other calling for voter ID.

However, the ruling doesn’t mean that people will have to show a photo ID when they vote this year. There are two other ongoing lawsuits where judges have found North Carolina’s voter ID law appears to be unconstitutional, one in state court and one in federal court.

As long as those other lawsuits and legal rulings continue to block voter ID from going into place, people will be able to vote without having to show ID first. The new ruling Tuesday — which dealt with the process by which the two amendments were passed, not their actual substance — can’t override those other court cases.

The court’s decision rejects arguments in a lawsuit brought by the state NAACP and upheld by a lower court, which argued that the legislature was made illegitimate by racial gerrymandering.

It takes a supermajority of lawmakers — 60% instead of 50% — to approve putting any constitutional amendments on the ballot for voters to decide on. The NAACP had argued in this lawsuit that it was only because of unconstitutional gerrymandering that Republican lawmakers had a supermajority when they wrote the proposed amendments, before the 2018 elections.

In 2018, that legislature put six constitutional amendments on the ballot, including the income tax cap and voter ID. Four of the amendments were approved by voters, and two were challenged in this lawsuit.

After the NAACP sued, Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins wrote in a February 2019 ruling, “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.”

But on Tuesday, the appeals court ruled 2-1 to overturn that ruling. Judge Chris Dillon wrote in his opinion that the Superior Court erred by arguing the legislature lost its power simply because a federal court ruled the state had too many majority-minority districts.

“It is simply beyond our power to thwart the otherwise lawful exercise of constitutional power by our legislative branch to pass bills proposing amendments,” he wrote.

When the Court of Appeals heard the arguments in this case last October, lawyers for the GOP lawmakers argued that if Collins’ original ruling had been upheld, it would lead down a slippery slope toward a confusing outcome in which the state budget and other high-profile laws might also be overturned.

During those arguments, Dillon also pointed out that the state’s current constitution was written in 1971, when there was only one Black lawmaker in the entire state legislature. He questioned whether the very bedrock of state government could therefore be questioned if the NAACP’s argument in this case were to stand.

“My concern is that somebody would say that was so egregious” that it has to be struck down, Dillon said, The News & Observer reported last October.

The Court of Appeals ruling Tuesday came down along party lines. The two judges in the majority who ruled for the legislature, Dillon and Donna Stroud, are Republicans. The dissenting judge, Reuben Young, is a Democrat.

The NAACP announced Tuesday it will appeal the case. If it goes to the N.C. Supreme Court, that court has a 6-1 Democratic majority — although four seats on that court are up for election this year, in addition to five of the 15 seats on the Court of Appeals.

“We are thrilled to bring this historic case to the Supreme Court of North Carolina to ensure that the people’s voice is heard and that the foundational principles of our democracy our Constitution is preserved and protected,” said the Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman of Greensboro, president.

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