TAR HEEL VIEW: Loony legal fights are choking the state, taxpayers


The U.S. Supreme Court decision on the state legislature’s new election law underscores the folly of wrongheaded laws that the legislature insists on fighting for in court until the bitter end. The state has spent more than $9 million in taxpayers’ money on outside legal representation in the past five years pursuing bad legislation.

Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore are on a roll. A bad one. These leaders have led the costly and, for the most part, losing charge. In five years, the legal bill has risen to $9.3 million, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported last month, citing legislative records. That total is more than 20 times what the legislature spent on outside counsel in the decade prior, WRAL-TV reported.

“In my experience, there have been significantly more constitutional challenges in the last five years than for previous legislatures and administrations,” Grayson Kelley, North Carolina’s chief deputy attorney general since 2003, told the News & Observer’s Anne Blythe recently.

The state GOP’s latest loss came the other day when the highest court in the land did not reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

This was after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decisive and strongly stated ruling on the matter in July. That should have been enough, but McCrory and company couldn’t resist pushing it further.

This is just one of several examples of legislation that should have been dropped after a court decision — or not passed in the first place. The list includes legislative district maps, the same-sex marriage ban and changing the rules for retention elections for sitting N.C. Supreme Court justices. Still pending and likely to lose is a law allowing some courthouse officials to opt out of performing same-sex marriages — now legal, like it or not — and HB2, which targets transgender people, limits local anti-discrimination laws and dictates bathroom access in government facilities.

The fact that the General Assembly has adopted legislation that allows the governor to tap into the state’s disaster fund to defend HB2 underscores the costly folly of such lost and unjust causes.

After sitting on the outside for so long, it’s not surprising that Republicans in power are ambitious. But it’s disappointing that, even with their share of legal experts, they would have such difficulty writing laws that pass constitutional muster. Complaining about “politically motivated decisions” by judges, as the leaders have done, is shunning their responsibility to pass good laws.

We don’t expect the GOP to sit on its thumbs while in office. And much of the legislation it has passed, though disagreeable — like shifting the tax burden toward the middle class and poor — is still perfectly legal.

But the GOP leadership doesn’t seem to know when to quit. Fighting lost causes hurts taxpayers. And it makes the state look bad to the global business world we should be fighting to attract.

The Winston-Salem Journal

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