In the general sense, let's say a state law is passed, and the courts decide that the law is unconstitutional because the United States constitution prohibits such laws. Can a state amend its own constitution to allow the law; or would that not help because it still violates the US constitution?

For a specific example, North Carolina passed a voter ID law which was struck down by the courts, finding that the law was created with the intent of targeting African Americans and suppressing their votes. I was unable to find more specific constitutional reasoning given, but it seems like this would be a 14th amendment issue; that the law was shown to deprive certain classes of citizens of their rights.

Now, in the upcoming election, North Carolina has a ballot initiative to add an amendment to the NC State Constitution to require an id to vote. However, would such an amendment even be allowed; if it could still be found to violate the US Constitution's 14th amendment?

Or, can a state's constitution override the US constitution in these matters?

  • 2
    The real confusion is that the court that found against this proposed rule do not have federal jurisdiction. That is that their ruling does not equate to federal law, It just means that the particular state law as it was written in that particular time was ruled against. You don't have to believe me, but you will find several states require voter id, ohio for one, I just had to show my driver's license just minutes ago. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 12:27
  • A link to the story(ies) would help provide a better answer. If what @FrankCedeno says is correct, then an amendment to the same level constitution would resolve the issue and over turn the court ruling (That is, since this is not SCOTUS but the Supreme Court of North Carolina, then the ruling will no longer be valid if the Constitution is Amended in such a way that makes the ruling Moot. The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, for example, was specifically written to overturn a SCOTUS Decision, in this case Dred Scott v. Sandford. It is one of the few valid ways to overrule SCOTUS).
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 16:15
  • @hszmv Thanks; that's part of the problem, I was able to find plenty of things talking about the rational behind striking down the law, but none of them clarified exactly what part of which constitution it was found to go against.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 16:28
  • All the sources I have found say that it was struck down because it targeted African Americans. Nothing about the actual specific legal reasoning.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 16:28
  • 1
    @GendoIkari: I would try and find the opinion of the court. If it's state Court, It's likely NC Constitution, though it could be US Constitution too. If it's Federal Court, it will be US. Also, so long as it has not been denied a a hearing by a higher appellant court, does not set it in stone.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 16:43

3 Answers 3


Article VI of the US Constitution says:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

So no, it doesn't matter whether the state puts it in a statute or in its constitution. Everything at the state level is subordinate to the federal constitution.

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    ...which specifies that anything it doesn't talk about is the purview of the states! Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 0:05
  • @elliotsvensson If it is unconstitutional I would think it talks about it.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 14:35

The United States constitution has supremacy over state constitutions in areas where the two overlap. However, for many areas they do not overlap. The US constitution specifically says that if something is not explicitly authorized to the federal government, it is left to the states or to the individuals. However, voting is specifically covered by the constitution.

The US Supreme Court has upheld ID requirements in some states. Thus, if the North Carolina amendment only says, "Must show ID to vote," it may pass constitutional muster. If the amendment were to instead say, "Blacks can't vote," then it would surely not pass constitutional muster.

I'm not familiar with the specifics of the previous North Carolina law nor the proposed amendment. In general, the complaint is that ID requirements have a disparate impact. If the disparate impact is addressed, then the ID requirement can move forward. Addressing the disparate impact generally involves making it easier to get ID without paying fees. This can mean either waiving fees for poor people or making ID free in general.

Because this would be an amendment to the state constitution, the Supreme Court might either say that it is unenforceable (people have to be allowed to vote without ID) or that the state must make free ID available to poor people (who are disproportionately members of minorities). It seems less likely that they would block the amendment entirely. It seems more likely that they will allow it to become part of the state constitution and then work around it.

There is nothing in the US constitution about ID requirements. Whether or not to require ID is a state decision. But the federal government may still insist that states make voting freely available to all noncriminal adults. As such, the federal government may require that ID be freely available if ID is a requirement for voting.

  • Given this, it's not clear what change would actually happen as a result if the amendment passes. Whether it passes or fails; NC could institute voter ID only if they fix the previous issues with it.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 3:57
  • Just so it's clear, federal statutes also override state constitutions. If the state amendment violates a federal statute (e.g. Voting Rights Act), it's preempted by the statute.
    – cpast
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 23:44

One point not addressed by other answers, is that federal law, either as a matter of statutory change, or as a matter of changing constitutional interpretation, can change over time.

For example, suppose that a state constitutional provision is unconstitutional or pre-empted by other federal laws when enacted, but left on the books. Then, federal law changes. At that point, the previously invalid and ineffective state constitutional provision would become immediately effective as state law when the federal law changed.

Many U.S. states have clearly unconstitutional or illegal constitutional provisions or statutes related to abortion that remain on the books for that purpose and may become effective if the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade as it is anticipated to do in the summer of 2022 based upon oral arguments in argued cases.

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