In 2012, approximately 20% of the North Carolina electorate voted for Amendment One, a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Since the passage of this destructive legislation, millions of dollars have been spent by the State of North Carolina in litigation to defend the law. On October 9, 2014, United States District Court Judge Max Cogburn for the Western District struck down Amendment One. The ruling puts North Carolina back on a progressive path, but North Carolina Speaker of the House and North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate, Republican Thom Tillis, has other ideas. Recently Tillis teamed up with president pro tem of the North Carolina Senate, Republican Phil Berger Sr., to defend the now defunct Amendment One allegedly “on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina.” The lawsuit is the latest in the line of pointless lawsuits that have cost North Carolinians millions with the goal of limiting individual freedoms.
On October 14th, United States District Court Judge William Osteen for the Middle District of North Carolina , a Bush appointee, allowed Tillis and Berger to intervene as a party in the federal district lawsuit, nearly two years old, that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the 4th Circuit (North Carolina is in the 4th Circuit). Note: Osteen agreed with Cogburn that the law says same-sex couples can marry because they had to follow the 4th Circuit’s decision.
Pursuing a lawsuit that will result in the 4th Circuit reaffirming its previous ruling is a frivolous waste of time; Tillis’s pursuit of this litigation proves to be the definition of irony given that he crusaded against tort reform to end “frivolous lawsuits.” In spite of this stark legal reality, the quixotic Tillis is soldering on towards certain defeat at the expense of North Carolina tax-payers.
It is unfortunate Tillis and Berger only care about scoring political points with their base, but this kind of chicanery is not new. Furthermore, it is emblematic of an overall strategy of restricting freedom, hurting minorities, cutting money for education and protecting the wealthy, a Reganesque strategy designed to roll back the Civil Rights legislation.
Tillis’s frivolous lawsuit will costs tens of thousands if not millions of dollars. Tillis, Berger and their cronies already paid a South Carolina lawyer millions of dollars to defend the Voter ID bill all in the name of the pathetic proxy of “voter fraud.” By hiring outside counsel, the cabal signaled they did not trust North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper because Cooper said he would not appeal Amendment One litigation; Cooper said he would not appeal unwinnable cases.
Tillis and Berger will stop at nothing to restrict the rights of North Carolinians be it through lawsuits or legislation. They play by different rules, and they do not play fair nor do they act like the tolerant “Christians” they claim to be.
Tillis’s actions are a new iteration of the same rotting playbook their party has used for years. As Winston-Salem writer, Chad Nance, said in a recent Camel City Dispatch (www.camelcitydispatch.com) post, they resurrected the “Ghost of George Wallace”– George Wallace with a dose of Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen thrown in for good measure. When asked about the recent exoneration of African-Americans Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown after 30-years of wrongful imprisonment, Tillis responded, “The system worked.” This is the same man who said a few years ago he does not feel reparations for slavery are necessary because “black people have welfare,” a statement worthy of its own article for its idiocy and obvious racial undertones.
Sadly these absurd machinations are all part of North Carolina’s “race to the bottom” where the state is ranked last in teacher pay, and the General Assembly cut $500 million from this year’s education budget. It did so while giving tax cuts to the wealthy for their private jets and yachts.
The latest chapter in the downward spiraling saga is legislation proposed by Tillis and Berger in the General Assembly that would allow magistrates and judges, who objected on religious grounds, not to perform same-sex marriages. This was in response to a Rockingham County incident where Phil Berger Jr., son of Phil Berger Sr. and local District Attorney, said he would support a magistrate who refused on religious grounds to perform a same sex marriage. North Carolina ACLU Legal Director, Chris Brooks, said in an October 22nd @NCCapitol article that such legislation would “pose huge problems.” Brooks cites a 1977 case where a magistrate refused to marry a mixed-race couple on religious grounds; the couple sued, and the magistrate lost.
In November, North Carolina stands at the precipice. It can either fall into the abyss with Thom Tillis or it can “move forward” with Senator Kay Hagan. If Tillis is chosen, sadly North Carolina, a great state, will go the way of Mississippi with binders full of bigots on its voter roles and nothing to show for it.
Michael Wells is a lawyer in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter @slnc01. He blogs at southernlawyernc.blogspot.com.