Depending on whom you talk to and when, North Carolina is
a. on the cusp of a constitutional crisis
b. an object lesson in how to cheat and get away with it
d. yes, and then some
No matter what you call it, these are strange times. A week ago, a trial court declared the districts that gave us the current legislature to be illegal and ordered new maps. This was an extraordinary ruling, appropriate to extraordinary circumstances. The GOP legislature began cheating out of the blocks, using forbidden maps to guide their work. The court will need to intervene again.
And this week, our illegally constituted Republican assembly has used deception and trickery to override the governor's veto. It's brass-knuckled politics, straight from the party of Trump. Maybe not criminal, definitely sleazy. So now what.
First and foremost, uphold the veto in the Senate. It's going to be a close vote, with every Republican voting to cheat.
Next, litigation, Take Tim Moore to court, even if we stop things in the Senate.
Before you start backpedaling, just listen. These are strange times. Governments around the world are struggling with all kinds of chaos, just like we are. In Great Britain, for example, the Scottish Supreme Court last week ruled that Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament was illegal because he lied about his motivations. An extraordinary step for extraordinary circumstances. A ruling against lying.
So here we are in North Carolina. We have an illegally constituted House using deception to win the most consequential legislation in years. Is this kind of behavior something our democracy should tolerate? Even if it's not against the law, it undermines the foundation of our constitution. Being truthful.
That's why this crisis should be in front of the NC Supreme Court right now. I want us to ask the Justices to arbitrate this dispute between the executive and legislative branches. I want them to insist on some boundaries of fair play.
Does that mean I think I know what the Supreme Court might or might not do? I don't have a clue. The fact that there's a Democratic majority on the court seems irrelevant. They should obey the constitution. Period. But as a practical matter, our constitution is full of wiggle room with many passages open to interpretation. One of my favorites is Article 1, Sec. 6. Separation of powers.
"The legislative, executive, and supreme judicial powers of the State government shall be forever separate and distinct from each other."
Today, political power in NC is unbalanced in favor of the legislature. But the truth is, there's just a much political power in the judiciary, which is also elected by the people. The only question is this: Will our justices choose to use it?
They way I see it, the NC Supreme Court could do almost anything it wants in service of democracy in North Carolina. They are the ultimate umpires, they call the strikes. Yes, they could get fired if they piss off enough team managers. But in the short run, they can call a spade a spade.
Maybe they'd send a letter to Tim Moore saying, "Great job, Mr. Speaker. You stuck it to 'em." Or maybe they'd hand down a ruling that says, "We find your practices abhorrent and we declare your trickery unacceptable in this case. Do better."
That's what the Scottish Supreme Court said to Boris Johnson. And I'd sure love to see our state supreme court do something equally meaningful.
PS I expect experts to take me to task for my lack of legal knowledge. But consider this: we've tried it your way, playing by some pre-ordained list of rules. Maybe we need to challenge our preconceptions about the boundaries of judicial action. Maybe we should ask our judges to ... well ... exercise judgment. Let's throw a fast ball and see what they say.