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County legislators disagree with judge’s ruling on constitutional amendments

SALISBURY — Because they received approval from the state’s voters, Rowan County’s state legislators say they disagree with a judge’s ruling on Friday that the General Assembly should not have added state constitutional amendments requiring voter ID and limiting income tax rates to the November ballot.

On Friday, Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins agreed with the state NAACP’s argument that the Republican-led General Assembly in 2017-18 was “illegally constituted” because federal judges had ruled that the district maps used in the the 2016 elections were gerrymandered based on race. 

“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’ decision states.

Republican legislative leaders appealed the court ruling Monday night.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said he thinks the judge erred in his decision because the ruling would mean that every bill and budget passed in the previous session would be invalid.

Warren and other lawmakers representing Rowan County — Rep. Julia Howard, R-77; Rep. Larry Pittman, R-83; and Sen. Carl Ford, R-33 — say they don’t think the ruling is legitimate because a majority of North Carolina voters approved the amendments. The amendment requiring a photo ID to vote received 55.5 percent approval; the amendment capping the income tax rate at 7 percent received 57.4 percent of the vote.

“The people of the state voted for the amendments,” Howard said. “This is overriding the voice of the people.”

Ford said he expected the amendments to be struck down based on Democrats’ plan to tie up the issue in court.

Whether the constitutional amendments will stand through the legal battles is unknown, as is the effect on future elections, especially whether voters will have to show an ID or not. Ford said he hopes the ruling won’t affect municipal elections in November, adding sometimes cases can take months or years to go through the courts.

Ford said judges, though, may be able to draw from Georgia’s voter registration law, which was adopted by a GOP-run legislature. Though the Georgia law was challenged in federal district court. 

Warren said voters backed the amendments struck down Friday even as they faced statewide campaigns against the amendments. He added that amendments received support from both Republicans and Democrats

Ford said the judge’s ruling is more reason for having nonpartisan judges. Collins is a registered Democrat.

Howard said Collins overstepped his authority with the decision.

“It’s sad here we have judges that legislate from the bench,” Howard said.

Pittman said he is outraged by the judge’s ruling.

“This judicial activism must come to an end,” Pittman said. “There is clear precedent that even if the courts disagree with the composition of a legislature due to redistricting, they do not seek to deny the legislature the right to govern while that issue is being addressed.”

Senate Leader Phil Berger had similar sentiments in a statement released Friday.

“Based on tonight’s opinion and others over the past several years, it appears the idea of judicial restrain has completely left the state of North Carolina,” Berger said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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