More legal losses for state GOP

Feb. 22, 2014 @ 08:54 AM

This editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer.

If legislating were an Olympic competition, Republicans in North Carolina wouldn't be within sniffing distance of a medal anytime soon. Because judges don't seem to like much that comes out of Raleigh.

Last week, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina's "Choose Life" license plate -- pushed through by Republicans in 2011 -- was unconstitutional. Last month, a federal judge struck down a provision in an N.C. law that required doctors to narrate ultrasound images for women seeking abortions.

Each ruling begs the question: Why do Republicans in Raleigh continue to make sport of legislating with laws that make a political statement but end up costing the state in the long run?

After all, the "Choose Life" license plate seemed doomed from the start. The appeals court had ruled against a similar plate in South Carolina a decade ago. This time around, the judges unanimously affirmed a lower-court decision, saying Republicans couldn't allow the anti-abortion license plate yet reject a pro-choice license plate.

It was a common sense ruling that everyone saw coming. But if you're a Republican in Raleigh, why let a little thing like legal precedent get in the way of a political opportunity?

Same goes for North Carolina's ultrasound mandate. Legal experts panned the provision, and few were surprised when U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles struck it down last month. Just two months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an Oklahoma ruling that struck down a similar ultrasound statute.

Things also are looking iffy for North Carolina's voter ID law, which the Justice Department has challenged and which critics say is one of the nation's most repressive. Then there's lawmakers' continuing resolve against same sex marriage despite a wave of federal court rulings against such bans. In the past two months alone, judges have struck down laws limiting marriage equality in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, and a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

But instead of reconsidering North Carolina's legally tenuous positions, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis are digging in. They've hired outside counsel to make sure N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper is doing his best to defend the same sex marriage ban, and they're urging Cooper to appeal the abortion law ruling.

Even N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory understands how wasteful that would be. In a statement following the abortion ruling, McCrory said an appeal would invite "costly and drawn out litigation."

But there's another cost, perhaps a larger one. North Carolina continues to accumulate the wrong kind of national attention. We were the first state to cut off long-term unemployment benefits. We were the last state to vote to ban gay marriage. Each additional headline that comes -- be it for the ultrasound law or voter repression -- is a blow to a state that once stood out from our regressive Southern neighbors. That's not a business recruiting tool, at least not with the elite corporations and high-end talent North Carolina wants to attract.

We understand that legislators were elected to represent the beliefs of their constituents, and in North Carolina, those beliefs run strongly on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But that's not reason enough to pass and support flawed legislation that stands little chance of surviving a court challenge. It's costing North Carolina in too many ways.