North Carolina Constitution

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North Carolina Constitution
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The North Carolina Constitution is the governing document creating the structure and function of the state of North Carolina.


The constitution is the highest legal document for North Carolina, and subjugates North Carolina law. It is subject to federal judicial review. Any aspect of the constitution can be nullified if it does not align with federal law and the United States Constitution.

The North Carolina constitution was ratified in 1971. This is the third constitution for the state. It currently contains 14 articles, each made up of different sections. Unlike the United States Constitution, which only appends amendments, North Carolina incorporates amendments into the document.[1]


See also: Preambles to state constitutions
We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings to us and our posterity, do, for the more certain security thereof and for the better government of this State, ordain and establish this Constitution.[2]

Article I

Like most modern democracies, North Carolina guarantees the rights of its inhabitants. There are 30 sections to this article, each outlining a separate recognized right. Many of these sections broaden the rights covered by the Bill of Rights. The state constitution also secures additional rights, for example the right to a public education and to open courts. Also of note, this section specifically denies the state the ability to secede from the United States and declares that each "citizen of this State owes paramount allegiance to the Constitution and government of the United States."[2] Section 37, added in 1995, is the newest addition to this article. This section declares the rights of victims of crime.

Article II

Article II declares that all legislative powers in North Carolina reside in the General Assembly. The General Assembly consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The chambers have 50 and 120 members and each house has a term of two years, respectively. Guidelines for the formation of voting districts and qualification for office are also covered.

This article also gives the governor the power to veto legislation in some circumstances. Veto power was denied the governor until 1995 when the constitution was amended. North Carolina was the last state to extend this power to its governor.

Article III

The governor is vested with all executive authority in Article III. The duties of the governor are defined as is the process of succession, should the governor die or become incapacitated. Holders of the governor office are limited to two consecutive terms. The "Council of State," a cabinet like body, is filled with eight popularly elected officials. This article also defines and mandates a balanced budget.

Article IV

Article IV defines the make up the judicial branch of the state and prohibit the legislature from inhibiting its function. Similar to the federal government, the power to impeach state officials and judges is given to the state House of Representatives. The Senate can remove a person from office with a 2/3 majority vote after an impeachment. This article also deals with the necessary qualifications of a judge and confers the power of judicial review with the state’s Supreme Court.

Article V

Article V gives the state government the right to tax and puts limits on that right. It authorizes an income tax and also limits the ability to issue public bonds.

Article VI

Article VI provides every person who is at least 18 years, an American Citizen and living within North Carolina the right to vote. This right is denied to felons and people illiterate in English.

This article also sets the eligibility to hold office. To hold state office a person cannot fail any of the following categories:[2]

  1. Younger than 21 years of age.
  2. Denies the existence of God (see Infeasible Provisions).
  3. A person who is not qualified to vote in an election for that office.
  4. Felon.
  5. Already holds a state or federal office.

Article VII

Article VII gives the General Assembly the power to define the boundaries of governmental subdivisions (counties, towns, cities). It limits the distance of newly incorporated town or cities from established cities based on the established city's population. The office of sheriff is provided for each county.

Article VIII

Article VIII defines corporations. It also gives the General Assembly the right to create and regulate corporations.

Article IX

Article IX established public education compulsorily for all able bodied children, "unless educated by other means."[2] The State Board of Education is defined here and given the power to regulate all "free public education" in the state. This article demands that the General Assembly establish a system of higher education and states that higher education should be free, "as far as practicable."[2]

Article X

Article X prevents the forced sale of a person's primary residence to pay for a debt, unless the house was specifically used as collateral for a loan. Females are also able to maintain full ownership of all property they own when they marry, under this article. In addition, life insurance policies that are paid to a spouse or child are exempt from claims of debt from the estate of the deceased.

Article XI

Article XI describes the only punishment methods to be used by the state. It specifically only allows the death penalty in cases of "murder, arson, burglary, and rape."[2] This article gives the responsibility of the public welfare to the General Assembly.

Article XII

This short article states, "The Governor shall be Commander in Chief of the military forces of the State and may call out those forces to execute the law, suppress riots and insurrections, and repel invasion."[2]

Article XIII

Article XII describes the two ways the constitution may be amended, by popular convention or through legislation. The later is the most common way to amend the constitution as the last time the constitution was amended by convention was 1875. In a legislative action, an amendment must pass by three-fifths in both houses of the General Assembly and also obtain a majority of a popular vote.

Article XIV

The final article of the constitution covers topics that do not fall neatly into the previous articles. Topics of sections in this article include:

  • Establishing Raleigh as the capital.
  • Establishing permanently the current state border.
  • Demanding the General Assembly uniformly apply laws to the state.
  • Allows any law that was legally enacted before this constitution the ability to remain in effect unless the law conflicts with the constitution.
  • Provides the General Assembly the ability to conserve natural resource by the creation of parks and the enactment of laws.

Amending the constitution

See also: Article XIII, North Carolina Constitution

There are two paths to amending the North Carolina Constitution; the legislatively-referred constitutional amendment and a constitutional convention.

Section 4 of Article XIII says that a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment is to go on the ballot if 60% of "all the members of each house" of the North Carolina State Legislature adopt an act submitting the proposed amendment to a statewide vote. The legislature can determine the date of the election on a proposed amendment.

Section 1 of Article XIII says that a constitutional convention can be called if:

  • There is a 2/3rds vote of both houses of the state legislature to put a convention question on the ballot.
  • A majority of those voting affirm the idea of having a convention.
  • Amendments or revisions proposed by a convention go to a statewide vote of the people for ratification.

Infeasible provisions

As per the Federal Supremacy Clause, all federal law and the United States Constitution overrule the North Carolina Constitution. There are several provisions in the current North Carolina Constitution that may conflict with federal law and/or the U.S. Constitution.

At least two provisions, carried over from previous versions of the document, are not enforced either because they are known to be void or would almost certainly be struck down in court.

  • Section 8 of Article VI disqualifies from office "any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God."[2] However, Article Six of the United States Constitution stipulates that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Under current precedent, this provision is binding on the states under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. As a result, this article has never been enforced despite being carried over from the 1868 Constitution.[2]
  • Section 4 of Article VI requires that a person be literate in the English language before registering to vote. This provision was widely used to effectively disenfranchise African-American voters in the Jim Crow era. As such, it is widely held that this section violates the Voting Rights Act. Although this provision was carried over from the 1868 Constitution, it has never been enforced. However, several attempts to remove this provision have failed.

In addition, federal and state court decisions have narrowed the scope of at least one section of the constitution. Section 3 and Section 5 of Article II state, "No county shall be divided in the formation of a representative district."[2] This provision is known as the "Whole County Provision." However, in 1981, the federal Justice Department ruled that this provision was inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act. The state thus ignored the Whole County Provision until 2002. That year, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution's equal protection clause presumed single-member districts and was thus a limitation on the Whole County Provision. It can also be argued that the "one person, one vote" rule from Reynolds v. Sims also limits this provision.[3][2]


This version, ratified in 1971, is North Carolina's third constitution. The first, created in 1776 after the American Declaration of Independence, was substantially amended in 1835. It created the government for the new state. In 1868, a new constitution brought the state back into the Union after the Civil War. That constitution was then amended to discriminate against African Americans.

The current version of the constitution, which includes 14 articles, reorganized the state government. Each version of the state constitution expanded the rights of the citizens as well as sections of the government.[4]

Since the Constitution of 1971, there have been over twenty amendments.

See also

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