As readers will recall, one of the most bizarre and outrageous actions of the 2017 General Assembly was the utterly nonsensical attempt to initiate impeachment proceedings against North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. The effort was driven by a conservative eastern North Carolina lawmaker named Chris Millis. Today, Millis announced that he will resign his seat in the House of Representatives, effective September 15 to spend more time with his family.
Let’s hope the insane impeachment scheme (which was based on Millis’ cockamamie theory that Marshall granted notary licenses to ineligible noncitizens) expires with Millis’ resignation. As we reported in the June 29 edition of the NC Policy Watch Weekly Briefing:
It’s the contention of Millis – a non-lawyer – that Marshall has somehow violated a federal law that proscribes conferring public benefits (a notary license arguably qualifies as such) on certain groups of noncitizens.
Marshall, who is a lawyer, counters that she has done no such thing and argues adamantly that she has only granted licenses to people who meet all legal requirements – including G.S. 10B-5(b) of the North Carolina statutes, which requires all notaries to “reside legally in the United States.” Indeed, she made just such an argument earlier this year to a legislative oversight committee and asked lawmakers for clarifying legislation if they were unsatisfied with her interpretation of the law. No such legislation or any official directive was forthcoming.
Especially given this backdrop, yesterday’s committee vote was a truly remarkable and disturbing step. The act of exploring impeachment proceedings against a duly elected public official ought to be a solemn and momentous step that’s only taken under the most extreme circumstances.
Even if Millis were right in his assessment of the law, to take such action against an elected official based merely on a difference of opinion in applying an array of statutes within his or her purview appears to be unprecedented in state history. It is certainly unprecedented in modern times.
It also establishes what could be a terribly dangerous precedent and, quite possibly, an ongoing constitutional crisis. Think about it: if state lawmakers can initiate impeachment investigations and even commence actual impeachment proceedings over such differences, where does it end?
Just last week, an official audit concluded that state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler was failing to properly enforce state dairy inspection laws. In years past, state Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry has been accused repeatedly of failing to fulfill her sworn duty to enforce state worker protection statutes.
The list goes on and on. There isn’t a governor in modern state history who hasn’t been sued successfully for his or her failure to interpret and/or enforce a particular law or regulation. Indeed, the General Assembly itself has been found repeatedly to have violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Should some sort of mass self-impeachment be commenced over that?
Millis made no mention of the impeachment nonsense in his resignation statement and said only that “My resignation is solely based on my need to be with my family more often and has nothing to do with any other assumptions that individuals may want to manufacture.”