A mixed elec­tion re­sult, but still progress for US, NC

The Herald Sun - - Opinion - BY GENE NI­CHOL Gene Ni­chol is the Boyd Tins­ley Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Law at the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina.

I’ll ad­mit it wasn’t the elec­tion I’d hoped for. An am­ple Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity re­mains in our Gen­eral Assem­bly – where so much work has been done in the last eight years to wound us as a com­mon­wealth and em­bar­rass us be­fore the na­tion. The United States Se­nate has been bol­stered in its fawn­ing sub­mis­sion. And, worst of all, huge swaths of the coun­try ral­lied to Don­ald Trump’s ban­ner, even af­ter a clos­ing cam­paign of overt racism and threat­ened au­toc­racy. The com­bi­na­tion can hardly leave one smil­ing. Still.

The U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has been up­ended for its cow­ardice and pur­chase. Say­ing, in ef­fect, we will forgo our obli­ga­tions of over­sight and ac­count­abil­ity in the face of one of the most law­less regimes in Amer­i­can his­tory — in ex­change for amuch cov­eted tax give­away to mil­lion­aires didn’t carry the day. As James Madi­son put it, the checks of sep­a­rated power, “may be a re­flec­tion on hu­man na­ture, but they are nec­es­sary to con­trol the abuses of gov­ern­ment.” Trump is still with us. Most Amer­i­cans de­cided, though, he’ll have to op­er­ate within the bounds of our con­sti­tu­tional frame­work.

And here in the Tar Heel State, en­gaged cit­i­zens suc­cess­fully pushed back on the stud­ied, re­lent­less and per­va­sive abuse of leg­isla­tive power. First, a coura­geous and bril­liant stu­dent of the Con­sti­tu­tion — one who has done much of the work of mak­ing the rule of law mean­ing­ful here in the last decade — was elected to the state supreme court. I’m con­fi­dent Anita Earls will be­come one of the sto­ried jus­tices in North Carolina his­tory. She’ll also help as­sure that the Con­sti­tu­tion ap­plies to all three branches of gov­ern­ment.

Sec­ond, and as cru­cial, Democrats broke the su­per­ma­jor­ity hold on the Gen­eral Assem­bly. That’s hardly, of course, a golden ticket. It won’t re­verse the Repub­li­can Party’s full-throated war on peo­ple of color, on poor peo­ple, or on the Four­teenth Amend­ment it­self. Our “pi­o­neer­ing work in big­otry,” as the New York Times puts it, is not re­pealed or un­done.

But the free rein is likely over. An em­pow­ered ex­ec­u­tive and an in­de­pen­dent state Supreme Court will as­sure that the ar­ro­gant dis­plays of law­less­ness to which we’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed are po­tently curbed. The con­stant claims of as­cen­dancy based on bold and peril-fraught as­ser­tions of the em­bod­ied “will of the peo­ple” will fall hol­low. To para­phrase Churchill, this isn’t the end, it’s not even the be­gin­ning of the end, “but it is, per­haps, the end of the be­gin­ning.”

And I de­light to think, as well, of how th­ese mam­moth changes were wrought. They didn’t rise on the backs of su­per­star politi­cians – like Barack Obama, Beto O’Rourke, An­drew Gil­lum or Stacey Abrams – much as I love them. In the na­tion’s heart­land, women pressed to say Amer­ica stands for some­thing, and it’s not this. And (largely) in Wake County, vot­ers of all stripes sim­ply de­clared, to the folks on Jones Street, “enough.” We’d rather not be in­volved with pol­i­tics, they seemed to con­cede, but if you folks are go­ing to let North Carolina be de­stroyed, we’ll step in. The “last, best hope,” as it’s said. Maybe we ought to let Lin­coln re­place Silent Sam.

North Carolina, I un­der­stand, is more con­ser­va­tive than I wish. It is less smit­ten with the de­mands of con­sti­tu­tional egal­i­tar­i­an­ism than some­one like me would hope. But or­di­nary cit­i­zens putting their feet down and say­ing “be­have” is some­thing. Re­ally some­thing.

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