N.C. Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse claimed last week that the N.C. Supreme Court could face the possibility of impeachment if it voted to remove proposed constitutional amendments from the November ballot.
Woodhouse was referring to the six constitutional amendments proposed by the N.C. General Assembly, including a Voter ID amendment that would require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.
The proposed amendments currently face separate lawsuits from Gov. Roy Cooper, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and Clean Air Carolina.
Austin Hahn, president of UNC Young Democrats, said he found the proposed Voter ID law to be the most shocking because he believes it would disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups.
“I think that trying to enshrine that in the constitution is especially egregious,” said Hahn.
He said the fact that Voter ID amendments have been struck down in North Carolina in the past, yet General Assembly Republicans are still trying to push the initiative, ignoring checks and balances.
Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said she found problems with many of the proposed amendments because the process of making major changes to the Constitution is not as inclusive as it should be.
Insko said the last time the constitution faced major changes in 1971, it underwent a much longer review process than the current proposed amendments allow.
“If any one wants to make major changes in our constitution, it should be a more thoughtful and inclusive process,” she said.
Insko said she objects specifically to two amendments the governor challenged because they affect the balance of power. She said she is concerned about the amendment that transfers power from boards and commissions because it will make the legislature too powerful in her opinion.
“[The Voter ID law] would open the door for a bill to be passed that could put in place restrictions that target racial groups,” Insko said. “To have our country work right, we really need to have all groups represented.”
Robert Orr, a retired N.C. Supreme Court justice still practicing law, said he didn’t think the Supreme Court actually faced the possibility of impeachment.
“I think Dallas’s comments were the usual over-the-top blustering, and there are really no grounds to even consider impeachment,” Orr said.
He said the court is doing its duty by reviewing the constitutionality of the laws passed by the legislature and therefore could not face impeachment.
“Frankly, I think it is just a political vehicle to try and subtly or not-so-subtly intimidate the court,” said Orr. “That’s wrong, and the courts aren’t going to pay any attention to it.”
John V. Orth, a UNC law professor, also said the court could not face the possibility of impeachment because they have the duty to make sure the legislature follows the requirements of the constitution.
Orth said the real question that challenges the judges is how much control the legislature has over the wording of the ballot. He said while the legislature has great leeway with the wording of the ballot, they do not have absolute uncontrolled discretion.
“I would be surprised and indeed embarrassed if any of my friends on the Supreme Court paid any attention from that threat from Dallas Woodhouse,” Orth said.
The amendments may not even see the desk of the court because the General Assembly goes back into session Friday and may change the ballot language. The story will continue to develop throughout election season.
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