The Governing Board of the North Carolina Council of Churches opposes six amendments to the North Carolina Constitution that have been approved by the General Assembly and that will be submitted to voters in the 2018 general election. We base our opposition on these grounds:
1) The state Constitution is our state government’s charter of principles and organization toward the ends of justice and liberty. It should be amended only in the interests of making our system of government more fair and efficient in promoting the welfare of all state residents. Proposed amendments must be advanced after careful, open consideration and with due regard for the public’s need to understand their effects.
2) Legislation setting forth the six amendments was hurried to passage in June during the closing days of 2018 regular session. That schedule did not allow for a thorough, objective review of the amendments’ costs and consequences. Revisions in response to adverse court rulings similarly have been rushed.
3) Constitutional amendments must be approved by voters in statewide referendums. For those referendums to be credible, descriptions on the ballot of the proposed changes must be straightforward and accurate. The referendum language stipulated by the legislature does not meet that standard.
4) In some cases, the referendums seek voters’ approval for major organizational and policy changes that would be carried out through subsequent legislation. Because that legislation would not be brought forth until amendments were approved, voters would not be able to tell specifically what changes in state laws they were being asked to authorize. They are being asked to issue blank checks to a legislative majority that has abused the amendment process to conceal its intentions.
5) Taken together, the proposed amendments would:
- Promote a partisan agenda that fails to address many of North Carolina’s most important needs, and would help shield misguided laws from further constitutional challenges.
- Be designed to boost turnout among voters who would help the majority maintain its grip on power.
- Augment that power at the expense of the governor, upsetting the balance required for good and just governance.
6) Specifically, the amendments in their latest versions would:
- Embed in the Constitution a requirement that in-person voters present photo identification. The legislature already has shown a willingness to use such requirements to hold down the number of voters, especially among the poor, elderly and racial minorities, and it has been rebuked by the courts. (Reference Session Law 2018-128.)
- Reduce the governor’s authority over the State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in a way that the state Supreme Court already has rejected. The effect would be to overrule that decision and likely to further hinder access to the polls. (Reference Session Law 2018-133.)
- Strip the governor of his or her independent authority to decide who should fill vacant judgeships. The governor instead would have to choose among at least two candidates presented by the legislature, which has shown its eagerness to give the courts a partisan slant. Among other ill effects, such a breach in the separation of powers could work to erode the separation of church and state. (Reference Session Law 2018-132.)
- Expand the existing rights of crime victims to receive notice of and participate in court proceedings. This proposal was approved without due regard to the additional costs to an already underfunded justice system. Victims’ rights must be taken seriously, but there is little to suggest that’s not currently the case. (Reference Session Law 2018-110.)
- Guarantee the right to “hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.” The ability to engage in these traditional activities in keeping with sensible regulations is not threatened. (Reference Session Law 2018-96.)
- Cap the state income tax at 7 percent, constraining future legislatures’ ability to raise sufficient revenue to deal with unforeseen events or changing priorities. The present cap of 10 percent is more than sufficient to protect the taxpayers. (Reference Session Law 2018-119.)
7) The North Carolina Council of Churches rejects manipulation of the state Constitution that enables one branch of government to impose its will on another, that abuses the amendment process for partisan gain and that facilitates a radical agenda harmful to the state’s well-being and in conflict with justice guidelines followed by the Council. We stand against the proposed amendments for the damage they are likely to do and for the cynical manner in which they are being pursued.