If you aren’t hair-on-fire alarmed at how the left is using a nuclear option to stage a coup at our state’s highest court, you haven’t been paying attention. The coup would nullify two election cycles and nearly 10 million votes.
This won’t be North Carolina’s first coup d’etat. In 1898, Democrats led by News and Observer owner Josephus Daniels marched into Wilmington, violently seized control of the Republican-majority city council, and changed the course of political power in the state for nearly a century. It’s the only successful forceful overthrow of an elected government in U.S. history.
Our modern-day story starts in 2013. That year the N.C. General Assembly combined voter ID with a package of election reforms. Federal courts tossed out the entire package, ruling it would harm minority voters. Supporters then took their case directly to the people. The General Assembly proposed an ID amendment for the state constitution. In 2018, voter ID secured 55% approval, with 2 million North Carolinians casting “yes” ballots. The measure won by 405,000 votes.
Refusing to accept the people’s will, the state’s NAACP went to court.
The key argument: Legislative districts were gerrymandered so egregiously that Republican legislative leaders amounted to “usurpers.” They had no right to place any amendments on the ballot, the group charged. In a revealing move, the suit also challenged a tax-related amendment but omitted two other successful amendments on less politically contentious topics.
A trial court judge bought the NAACP’s argument and threw out the challenged amendments. Then the N.C. Court of Appeals reversed course. Appellate judges noted that the people of North Carolina made the ultimate decision on both targeted amendments, agreeing to limit future tax increases and enshrine voter ID in the state constitution.
That brings us to 2021. The voter ID case now sits with the N.C. Supreme Court, a seven-member elected body, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-3 in races run as partisan elections. Both of the court’s newest justices, elected in 2020, are Republicans.
In a not-so-subtle political shot across the bow, the NAACP’s latest voter ID legal challenge seeks to have the two new justices disqualified from the voter ID case. One, Tamara Barringer, had been a state senator in 2018, when legislators placed constitutional amendments on the ballot. The other, Phil Berger Jr., is the son of the Senate’s top elected officer, a frequent foe of Democrats.
Here’s the key: Without the participation of Barringer and Berger in the case, Democrats would hold a 4-1 majority in making a final decision on voter ID in North Carolina. If successful, the move would potentially nullify the will of 2 million voters who said yes to voter ID in 2018 and render powerless the millions of voters who put Barringer and Berger on the state’s highest court in 2020.
Tally up all votes cast for the two amendments in 2018 and the two Supreme Court justices in 2020, and the total approaches 10 million.
That four Democrat justices would forcibly remove two duly elected Republican judges against their will was speculation until Sept. 28. The court issued an order that day with questions reflecting just such a scenario. The Wall Street Journal editorial board appropriately blasted the political power gambit as “unprecedented” and “a stunning and destabilizing prospect.”
A bipartisan group of former state Supreme Court Chief Justices also weighed in, penning a group editorial. They pointed to the state’s long history of allowing individual justices to decide for themselves whether to participate in a case. “Without exception, recusal was not considered a matter for the whole court to resolve.”
While the NAACP seeks to remove the two Republican justices, the group remains silent about a Democratic colleague. Justice Anita Earls represented plaintiffs tied to the group in a federal redistricting lawsuit. That suit served as a precursor for the current case. Earls herself relied on the legislative “usurper” argument.
Earls set a precedent of her own in 2019, her first year on the N.C. Supreme Court. She refused to recuse herself from a state redistricting case. That was despite her extensive work on redistricting, including direct work for clients linked with the plaintiffs in the case she was hearing.
If this scheme to remove the two Republican justices is successful, look for the NAACP to use the same trick to disqualify Berger in any redistricting cases. His father is likely to be named as a defendant in his official capacity. And the legitimacy of the court and the rule of law will be collateral damage. North Carolinians will likely be subjected to decades of political darkness as we are governed by those who unconstitutionally seized power because they couldn’t win at the ballot box. Sound familiar?
Editor’s note: The John Locke Foundation, the parent organization of Carolina Journal, joined the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law’s amicus brief in the constitutional amendments case. The brief urges the N.C. Supreme Court to protect voter rights and deny the NAACP’s motion.
This piece originally appeared in the December / January print edition of Carolina Journal.