North Carolina - Constitution Commission of 1957-1958

Upon the request of Governor Luther H. Hodges, the General Assembly of 1957 authorized him to appoint a fifteen (15) member Constitutional Commission to study the possible need for changes in the State Constitution and to make recommendations of its findings to the Governor and the General Assembly.

This Commission recommended rewriting the entire NC Constitution and submitting it to voters for approval or disapproval in its entirety since the recommended changes were too numerous to be easily effected by individual amendments. The proposed Consititution drafted by the Commission represented, in large part, a careful job of editorial pruning, re-arrangement, clarification, and modernization of all terminology. It also incorporated several significant and substantive changes.

The Senate was to be increased from fifty (50) to sixty (60) members, and the initiative for decennial redistricting of the Senate would have been shifted from the General Assembly to an ex-officio committee of three (3) legislative officers. Decennial re-apportionment of the House of Representives would have been made a duty of the Speaker of the House rather than that of the entire General Assembly.

Problems of succession to constitutional executive offices and how to settle questions of officers' disability would have been either resolved in the Constitution or had their resolution assigned to the General Assembly. The authority to classify property for taxation and to exempt property from taxation would have been required to be exercised only by the General Assembly and only on a uniform and statewide basis. The requirement that the public schools constitute a "general and uniform system" would have been eliminated and the constitutional authority of the State Board of Education reduced.

Fairly extensive changes were recommened to the Judicial article, including the establishment of a General Court of Justice with an Appellate Division, a Superior Coourt Division, and a Local Trial Court Division. A uniform system of District Courts and trial commissioners would have replaced the existing multitude of inferior courts and Justices of the Peace. The creation of an intermediate Court of Appeals would have taken place and uniformity of jurisdiction of the courts within each division would have been required. Aside from these changes, the General Assembly would have essentially retained its pre-existing powers over the courts, including jurisdiction and procedures.

The General Assembly of 1959 also had before it a recommendation for a constitutional reformation of the court system that had originiated with a Court Study Committee of the North Carolina Bar Association. In general, the recommendations of this Committee called for more fundamental changes in the courts than those proposed by the Constitutional Commission. The extent of the proposed authority of the General Assembly over the courts was the principle difference between the two recommendations. The Constitutional Commission generally favored legislative control of the courts and proposed only moderate curtailment of the General Assembly's authority. The Court Study Committee, however, accepted a more literal interpretation of the concept of an independent judiciary. Its proposals, therefore, would have minimized the authority of the General Assembly over the state's courts, although structurally its system would have closely resembled that recommended by the Constitutional Commission.

The proposed Constitution received extensive attention from the 1959 General Assembly. The Senate modified and passed the bill to submit the proposal to the voters, but it failed to pass in the House of Representatives, chiefly due to disagreement over the issue of court revision.

As had been true of the Proposed Constitution of 1933, the Proposed Constitution of 1959, though not adopted as a whole, subsequently provided much material for Amendment Proposals, which were submitted individually to the voters and approved by them over the next decade.

In the 1961 General Assembly, the proponents of court reform were successful in obtaining enactment of a Constitutional Amendment, approved by the voters in 1962, that created a unified and uniform General Court of justice for the State. Other Amendments submitted by the same session and approved by the voters were:

- Automatic decenniel re-apportionment of the House of Representatives
- Succession of elective state executive officers and disability determination
- Reduction in the in-state residence period for voters for President of the United States
- Increases in the compensation of elected state executive officers during their terms
- The powere of the General Assembly to classify and exempt property for taxation be exercised by in alone and only on a uniform and statewide basis

The 1963 General Assembly submitted two new Amendments. The first, to enlarge the rights of married women to deal with their own property, was approved by the voters. The second, to enlarge the Senate from fifty (50) to seventy (70) members and allocate one member of the House of Representatives to each county, was rejected by the voters.

The 1965 General Assembly submitted, and the voters approved, an Amendment authorizing the legislative creation of a Court of Appeals.

The 1967 General Assembly proposed, and the voters approved, Amendments authorizing the General Assembly to fix its own compensation and revising the legislative apportionment scheme to conform to the judicially-established requirement of representation in proportion to population in both houses.

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