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Balance of Power

Judge’s ruling spurs new polarization of N.C. political battles

North Carolina's place in the center of so many of the country's "good government" fights has been underscored anew by a judge's bold and surprising move to block a pair of new voter-approved amendments to the state Constitution.

A requirement for a new statewide voter identification system and a cap on the state income tax rate won solid majorities in November after they were placed on the ballot by the Republican-run legislature. But Wake County Superior Court Judge G. Bryan Collins, a Democrat, struck them down in a blistering attack on the state's history of gerrymandering issued late Friday.

"An illegally constituted General Assembly does not represent the people of North Carolina and is therefore not empowered to pass legislation that would amend the state's constitution," he wrote.

Many legislators who voted to put the measures to a statewide referendum were at the time representing state House and Senate districts subsequently ruled unconstitutionally drawn to dilute African-American electoral power.

"It's a reach of legal logic, a ruling that appears more like progressive fist-pounding than something that should come from the bench," The Raleigh News & Observer editorialized on Monday. "Republicans have now been handed a gift from Collins — a real-life example that overreaching judges want to bend the constitution for progressive purposes. It's the go-to gripe whenever a ruling doesn't go Republicans' way, something that's happened often since the GOP took power in North Carolina and passed a series of constitutionally iffy laws."

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Efforts to get rid of the state's statutes written to suppress voter turnout or keep the GOP in power through creative mapmaking have now been set back, the editors lamented. "Collins tainted legitimate court decisions by allowing Republicans to point to one fantastical ruling. He did North Carolinians, liberal or conservative, no favors.

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