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Common Cause back in court tomorrow with challenge to 2016 ‘surprise’ special session

The North Carolina Court of Appeals will hear a challenge tomorrow to the 2016 “surprise” special legislative session.

The hearing, Common Cause v. Forest, will start at 9:30 a.m. at the Court of Appeals building at 1 West Morgan St., and is expected to last for an hour. The plaintiffs, Common Cause and 10 North Carolinians, lost the case in Superior Court in 2017 but appealed the decision.

Here’s background from the voting rights organization:

The plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Forest argue that legislative leaders violated the NC Constitution in December 2016 when, with no notice to the public, they called a special session to make sweeping changes to state government. Unlike each of the preceding 30 extra sessions, dating back to 1960, citizens were given no advance notice that the December 2016 Fourth Extra Session would be called, and no notice of the subjects it would address.

After convening that Fourth Extra Session in 2016, legislative leaders modified the rules of the House and Senate to speed up the legislative process and curtail participation in committee meetings, effectively eliminating debate and deliberation. The legislature passed the bills less than 48 hours after they were introduced.

In April 2017, Common Cause and 10 North Carolina citizens filed suit against the legislature’s surprise special session. At the heart of the challenge is a violation of citizens’ constitutional right to “instruct their representatives” – a right expressly guaranteed by Article I, Section 12 of the North Carolina Constitution.

The absence of public notice and wholesale changes to the legislative rules made it virtually impossible for North Carolina citizens to communicate with their representatives about the sweeping legislation proposed and enacted during the Fourth Extra Session, which included passage of these bills:

  • Senate Bill 4 changed the structure of state and county boards of elections and the State Ethics Commission, created partisan appellate judicial elections, and stripped the newly elected governor of the power to administer the Industrial Commission; and
  • House Bill 17 curtailed the governor’s appointive powers and transferred power from the State Board of Education to the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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