N.C. Bar Has 'Serious Concerns' Over Senate-Passed Measure

North Carolina’s Senate again has approved legislation to change the way state courts weigh challenges to the constitutionality of laws passed by the General Assembly, despite “serious concerns” raised by the N.C. State Bar Association.

Legislation supported by the Senate would require three-judge panels to decide the merits of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of laws passed by the legislature. The Senate delivered a favorable vote on Thursday after a series of actions that included the House removing the provision from its version of a Senate-passed budget, and the Senate Judiciary Committee then adding the provision to another bill, according to Gavel to Gavel, the blog of the National Center for State Courts.

The state bar group voiced concerns about this proposed change and another, which would provide an automatic stay of any court ruling that struck down a legislative act, according to a (Charlotte) Observer column by associate editor Fanny Flono.

Stated the bar’s Executive Director Allan Head,  “There is no legitimate reason for constitutional challenges to be treated differently from other declaratory suits in terms of venue. Moreover, constitutional challenges may arise in suits between private citizens and disparate treatment of such challenges will create doubt about fairness in the public mind. We also have strong concerns about the constitutionality of a legislature telling a court it must automatically stay its own orders. This provision is a violation of separation of powers and not in the best interests of the public.”

To learn more about the proposed shift, see Gavel Grab. N.C. Policy Watch has a lengthy discussion of the proposal in a commentary entitled, “Three-judge court: An idea whose time has passed.” The National Center for State Courts is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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