A legislature answerable to no one?

Published November 30, 2022

By Capitol Broadcasting Company

                                    State Senate chamber

To follow what state Senate leader Phil Berger and his lawyers are arguing these days, no one can tell the General Assembly what must be done to provide a quality education to every child in North Carolina

If Phil Berger decides the legislature refuses to spend a dime on public schools – no court nor anyone else can force him and the legislators who follow his lead to do any different. Do courts even have the authority to determine whether the legislature has failed to adhere to the state and federal constitutions?

Even when the state (including the legislature) has been found to be violating the law in failing its duty to uphold the State Constitution only the General Assembly can decide what different policies, if any, will be adopted to address the matter. Only the legislature can determine, and to what degree if any, the solution will be funded.
That was the clear message from the legislature -- and from the dissent -- to the most recent state Supreme Court decision that DID order the state – including the legislature – to implement and fund a court-ordered remedial program to assure every child has access to a quality education. “First and foremost, education policy and funding are legislative responsibilities,” said the dissent from Phil Berger Jr.

So, North Carolina legislators answer to no one when it comes to upholding the oaths they take “to support, maintain and defend the Constitution” of the state.

Is it solely the province of the legislature to define what is quality education? No one but the legislature can determine what is needed – if anything -- to meet our state Constitution’s mandate and it is only for the legislature to delineate that definition.

What recourse is there for anyone who might contend the state isn’t meeting its Constitutional obligation or that the legislature is responsible?

The likely snooty answer from Berger and his followers is the election – like the one we just had. If constituents don’t like what legislators do, vote to replace them. Of course, thanks to hyper-partisan gerrymandering, that too can become an empty gesture.  This is a legislature where nearly half of the Republicans just elected to the state Senate and House had no opposition on Election Day.

And, of course, our legislative leaders are busy arguing that no one has any business telling them the election districts they draw are fair and meet the legal requirements of the state and federal constitutions.

Stay tuned for more on that – coming Wednesday, Dec. 7 before the U.S. Supreme Court.