What Is the Game Plan, and Where Are We Moving?

Bain, a white man with white hair, wears a white shirt and black suit.By W. Bain Jones Jr.

Over two hundred years ago, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote The Federalist Papers. These essays were to encourage discussion and the approval of the United States Constitution. In The Federalist #78, Alexander Hamilton noted that the courts were “designed to be the intermediate body between the people and their legislature” to ensure that the people’s representatives acted only within the authority given in the Constitution. Clearly, the courts on the federal and state levels are created to be an active check on the Legislative and Executive branches. We are an essential part of this check.

North Carolina has had a challenging path to the creation of both State Constitutions. In response to the harsh British rule, the First Constitution created a stronger Legislative Branch than the Executive Branch. It also made the terms of elected officials short so that the citizens could more directly affect the selection of their leaders. As was the case in many states, rights were limited to landholders and white men. By the time the Second Constitution was being written, regions of the State were wanting reform to encourage more expansive growth with government assistance and enactment of laws that would provide more opportunity. In spite of the fact that the Second Constitution was drafted in response to the end of slavery, African American North Carolinians found their rights suppressed in the Second Constitution.

We often describe our history as the American Experiment, and we have been working to achieve a more perfect union for many years. So, what is the game plan in 2023 soon to be 2024? Where are we moving and are we keeping the general welfare in the forefront of our decision making and resulting laws, rules and policies?

The Bill of Rights and the Individual Rights in the United States Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution make protection of citizens a fundamental right. With all the above in mind, I pose some questions to think about laws, rules and policies enacted in 2023.

Are the laws, rules and policies in government developed in an open, transparent and understandable manner?

Are we making sure that there is appropriate notice concerning laws, rules and policies so all interested parties may provide information and opinions concerning laws, rules and policies?

Are we sure that every citizen in North Carolina has equal access to the legal, legislative, regulatory and procedural processes?

Are we working to ensure that appropriate funding is provided by the state for essential programs and services?

Are the actions taken on behalf of all the citizens of North Carolina in the best interest of the citizens and the state?

As lawyers, we are uniquely capable of playing meaningful roles in the development of laws, rules and policies. While we are very diverse in philosophy and beliefs, bringing a diverse group of lawyers and stakeholders together always results in better outcomes. While our history has shown that sometimes improvement and helpful change are slow processes, let us carefully review proposed laws, rules and policies. Make informed and well-intended responses to any of these proposals. Each of us knows of various issues that need to be addressed. Make those issues known. When errors or misdirected laws, rules and policies are adopted, speak up and provide better options as well as work with many to correct these concerns. Consider an option if you spot an error in the General Statutes. For example, you find that General Statute A refers to a specific word in General Statute B, and B does not actually use that word, but uses another. Consider pointing out the error to the General Assembly’s General Statutes Commission, presently chaired by our own former Section Chair, Sabra Faires.

In our hectic and sometimes chaotic world, it is very easy to feel that your opinion or thoughts do not matter. Quite the opposite, our varied knowledge and experience enable us to make a difference. The Bar and Bar Association have been doing this for some time. Each of us can and must make meaningful contributions to the effort to form a more perfect union.