RALEIGH — Do the ends justify the means? Not when it comes to the operation of government. Constitutional republics, in particular, are based on precisely the opposite formulation: the means …
RALEIGH — Do the ends justify the means? Not when it comes to the operation of government. Constitutional republics, in particular, are based on precisely the opposite formulation: the means justify the ends.
Whatever our personal interest in a given governmental outcome may be, citizens of a republic are required to accept unwelcome ends as long as the means by which they were achieved are proper. The other side may win a legislative argument. The other party may win an election.
In recent years, Democrats have complained loudly that Republicans have breached the social contract regarding means and ends. Although I am politically conservative, I have agreed with some of those democratic complaints, regarding such matters as legislative encroachment on executive power and the irresponsible rhetoric that preceded Jan. 6.
My hate mail switches from Republican to Democrat, however, when I point out that political history extends far past 2010. That many of the same Democrats who criticize Republican gerrymandering, for example, were once enthusiastic practitioners of democratic gerrymandering, including Gov. Roy Cooper.
Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right.
“He started it!” is no more an excuse for political heavy-handedness than it is an excuse for one of your children to attack the other in the backseat while you’re trying to drive.
At the moment, it happens to be the Democrats throwing the punches, regarding two amendments North Carolinians added to their state constitution in 2018. One requires that a voter show a photo ID before casting a ballot. The other sets North Carolina’s maximum tax rate on personal income at 7%. Both were popular ballot measures, gaining 55% and 57% of the vote, respectively, in the 2018 election. But progressives dislike them. So they filed a lawsuit claiming that the referenda were illegally held because the legislature that placed the measures of the ballot was illegally constituted by gerrymandered districts.
I’ve advocated redistricting reform for decades. For most of that time, the gerrymanderers were Democrats. I never thought to argue that the state budgets they enacted, the laws they passed, or the constitutional amendments they placed on the ballot were illegal acts of an illegal legislature.
That’s because the argument is ridiculous and dangerous, especially when applied to constitutional amendments. What more democratic process is there than allowing voters to decide an issue by referendum?
It gets still worse. Now that the matter is before the North Carolina Supreme Court, the plaintiffs are attempting to force two Republican members from the case. They argue that Justice Phil Berger Jr. can’t participate because his father is president pro tem of the Senate, and that Justice Tamara Barringer can’t participate because she served in the Senate when the amendments were submitted to the voters in 2018.
Berger and Barringer were themselves elected by voters in 2020 to preside over constitutional questions on the court. Are democratic activists, cheered on by democratic leaders, truly willing to undermine popular sovereignty in this way? Yes, it seems. Can they not foresee how Republicans will respond?
“He started it” is no way to end it.
John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member and author of the new novel Mountain Folk, a historical fantasy set during the American Revolution (MountainFolkBook.com).