@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Vouchers only latest NC legislation to be challenged

Posted August 27, 2014 5:11 p.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2014 6:15 p.m. EDT

— Pick a controversial law passed by the General Assembly, and then pick a court.

A voucher program that uses taxpayer money to help some low-income families pay tuition so their children can attend private or religious schools is the latest legislation to face a legal challenge.

Since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, redrawn legislative and congressional district voting maps, a law requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls, a law requiring a doctor to narrate an ultrasound before providing an abortion, a law creating a "Choose Life" license plate and a budget provision eliminating the tenure rights of veteran teachers all have led to lawsuits against the state.

Michael Gerhardt, Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law and director of the Center for Law and Government at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said he doesn't find the raft of lawsuits unusual.

"When you have a legislature that was fairly aggressive like this one was to try and change a lot of areas of life in North Carolina, then you can expect some push-back," Gerhardt said.

That push-back put some laws in limbo. Parents who had enrolled their children in private schools after being awarded vouchers earlier this summer, for example, say they don't know what to do after a Superior Court judge last week declared the program unconstitutional.

"I was hurt. I was angry," Joy Faust said of hearing that the Opportunity Scholarship program had been halted after she had enrolled her two children in Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh.

"I feel like, in a sense, there is one voice that overshadows our ways, the voice of many," Faust said.

Although no federal judge has yet ruled on North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage, most observers see it as poised to fall following a recent 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning a similar ban in Virginia.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of North Carolina Values Coalition, finds such court rulings, as well as a decision blocking the ultrasound requirement, upsetting.

"We think it's outrageous that federal judges are playing God," Fitzgerald said.

Gerhardt noted, however, that such checks and balances are a key part of the way government operates in the U.S.

"Legislatures don't get to have the last word on the meaning of the state constitution or the meaning of the federal constitution," he said. "That's never been the American way, and that's not how it's done here."

He also pointed out that federal laws, such as the Affordable Care Act, have been subject to countless legal challenges through the years. He predicted that many of the North Carolina lawsuits won't be decided for months, if not years.

State lawmakers included a provision in the budget that Gov. Pat McCrory signed earlier this month that would have special three-judge panels hear future challenges to state laws instead of having a single judge hear each lawsuit.