Yesterday, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III denied legislative leaders’ motion to dismiss Patterson Harkavy’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the North Carolina General Assembly’s December 2016 special sessions. Judge Smith also ordered that the case be transferred to a three judge panel.
Patterson Harkavy filed the lawsuit in April 2017, on behalf of Common Cause and ten North Carolina citizens. 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. Legislative leaders provided public notice of the December special session only two hours before the session was convened and gave no notice of the topics that would be addressed. Since 1960, the General Assembly enacted legislation in 26 special sessions. In every one of those special sessions – except the Fourth Extra Session in December 2016 – the legislature or governor provided advance notice of the time and purpose of the special session.
After convening the Fourth Extra Session, 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 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.
Judge Smith’s order allowing the case to proceed has received coverage in the Raleigh News & Observer.