Exile on Jones Street: Choose your own courtroom adventure

0
50

kirk rossby Kirk Ross

We now have a pretty good idea roughly how many controversial laws passed by the General Assembly over the last couple of years are going to get taken down in the courts: damn near all of ’em.

Judging from just this past week, if someone stood up at a committee hearing or floor debate and said, “This is going to get taken down in the courts,” they were probably right.

Since the last Exile column, which focused on the pending wipeout of a discriminatory state constitutional amendment, three more major cases have rolled in, all of them coming up snakes’ eyes for legislative overreach.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens had his name on two of the rulings. In the first, he shot down a move by concealed-carry enthusiasts to take their pieces into the state fair, which was a test of broader concealed-carry laws.

In an indication of why guns at the fair might possibly be a good idea, a top gun advocate penned an op-ed for the News & Observer that ought to go right into the how-not-to chapter of some public-relations textbook. Not too loosely translated, it said that people need their guns at the state fair in order to protect their families from active shooters, terrorists and “wilding” black teenagers. Also, cops are outnumbered and outgunned and, and, and the danger is everywhere.

Stephens sided with the argument advanced by Secretary of Agriculture Steve Troxler and backed by Gov. McCrory that the whole idea was madness. (Paraphrasing a little here, too, but not much.)

The other major ruling by Stephens came down in a petition for judicial review of a State Board of Elections decision to allow the Watauga County Board of Elections to eliminate an on-campus early voting site at Appalachian State University, which, as many of you know, is the center of the universe in Watauga County.

Both the state and county election boards, which flipped over to a GOP majority when the governorship changed, tried to sell the idea that no on-campus voting was something other than what it was.

The hearings on the matter last year, like all the cases involving the suppression of student voting, were rife with rambling electoral doublespeak. Judge Stephens had none of it.

“[T]he court can conclude no other intent from that board’s decision other than to discourage student voting,” Stephens wrote. “A decision based on that intent is a significant infringement of students’ right to vote and rises to the level of an unconstitutional violation of the right to vote.”

He ordered the State Board of Elections to open a site on campus for the fall election. Early voting starts next Thursday.

The final case in the trilogy of decisions early this week came out of Charlotte, where a judge threw out a legislature-driven takeover of the city’s airport. In a plan similar to the legislature’s earlier moves on Asheville Regional Airport and that city’s water system, control of the airport would have moved from the city to a regional board with heavy representation from the Queen City’s exurbs.

The airport bill was an example of the parochial power struggles and score settling that ran through the last session. In that decision, a superior court judge in Charlotte ruled that the legislature overstepped its authority by saying a new commission could run the airport without FAA approval. The decision threw control of the airport back to the city.

All of these cases can, and probably will, rise again through appeals. And the legislators who pushed the bills in the legislature that led to the cases likely won’t give up just because they ran into a legal roadblock no matter how they are ultimately settled.

In each of these cases there were ample warnings and threats that those on the losing side of the vote would have their day in court. But in the era of supermajorities, threat of legal action, no matter how well founded, holds no sway.

As long as there’s no real backlash and somebody else is paying the legal bills, there will always be politicians willing to fight out their overreach in court.