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@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Legislating because they can?

Posted April 20, 2011 2:17 p.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2011 6:41 a.m. EDT

The state House Judiciary C committee sent a bill to the House floor today, even though no one - not even the sponsor - could come up with any evidence that it's needed.

House Bill 640, sponsored by Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, would, according to the bill analysis, "prohibit the application or enforcement of a foreign law in a legal proceeding if doing so would violate a right granted by the North Carolina or United States constitutions."    It would also nullify provisions in contracts or agreements "calling for the application of foreign law or choosing a foreign venue...if it violated a constitutional right of a party." 

Cleveland said the measure would protect North Carolinians from someone "going to a foreign law book." 

Democrats on the committee pointed out that the federal and state constitutions already supersede other laws, and that international law principles are well-established in courts and law schools.

Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, warned that the bill could cause serious problems for treaties and business contracts in NC. She asked for comment from the Department of Commerce and international business experts. Neither was there to testify.

"I'm not understanding the need for this law," Weiss said. "I'm not sure what problem we're fixing."  

Cleveland said he's running the bill because of "a couple of federal cases a few years back."

Rep. Verla Insko asked Cleveland twice for an example of a case that would show a need for the bill. "I do not have any specific examples off the top of my head," Cleveland finally replied.  

"Has it been passed in other states?" Insko asked.

"I believe it has, in some form or other," Cleveland answered. 

Actually, more than 15 states have or are currently considering such legislation, which is aimed at concerns that Islamic Sharia law is encroaching on the American judicial system. It's a common topic on right-wing radio, but proof of any real encroachment is scarce, to put it mildly. 

The first version of the legislation was passed by ballot initiative in Oklahoma.  It specifically named Sharia, and was promptly blocked by a judge, who declared that unconstitutional.  

Since then, newer versions of the measure in states from Arkansas and Texas to Indiana and Alaska have been more carefully worded. Cleveland's version makes no mention of religion at all, and it wasn't mentioned in committee.   

But House Minority Leader Joe Hackney has no doubt. "It's about sharia," he said "It's part of the far-right agenda. The extreme far right agenda."