by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court’s ruling against left-0f-center activist group Common Cause’s challenge of laws enacted during a special 2016 legislative session.
Most provisions of those laws were designed to restrict the power of incoming Gov. Roy Cooper. Some parts of the laws have been struck down in separate legal actions.
Common Cause had objected to the special legislative session — technically the “fourth extra session” — itself. The group’s lawyers argued that the public didn’t have sufficient notice about the session, which lawmakers initiated immediately after the conclusion of another special session dealing with hurricane relief.
Like the original three-judge Superior Court panel that ruled against Common Cause in May 2018, appellate judges didn’t buy the activists’ argument. Judge Richard Dietz writes for the unanimous panel:
… [T]he decision of how quickly particular laws, on particular subjects, must be enacted is a political question reserved for another branch of government.The plaintiffs in this case believe the two-day deliberations during the fourth extra session, without any advance notice of the topics to be addressed, were insufficient for them to fully convey their views to their legislators. But citizens who received insufficient funding, or were left out entirely, from the disaster relief act might feel the same of the one-day deliberation over that bill. And there are countless examples of legislative proposals, important to some constituency, that are added to, or cut from, a final bill with even less notice than that.
We reject the plaintiffs’ claim that our State Constitution permits the courts to wade into this legislative process and dictate how much time our General Assembly must spend contemplating legislative action. The record in this case demonstrates that the General Assembly provided public notice and access to the fourth extra session and that no portion of the official deliberations occurred in secret. Indeed, this fourth extra session generated far more public and media attention than many other last-minute legislative acts of our General Assembly throughout its history.
To be sure, there will be times when citizens believe that the legislature’s decision to move quickly on a particular bill, even though lawful public notice and access is provided, is nevertheless imprudent and that the opportunity to publicly oppose that bill, or rally opposition to it, has been frustrated. The remedy for these concerns is not with the courts; it is at the ballot box.