RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A panel of judges is scheduled to hold a hearing in a case this week brought by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) against Republican leaders in the legislature after the lawmakers took some of his power to make appointments to various state boards and commissions.
The hearing comes just days after the legislative session ended.
This year, Republicans took a variety of steps to place more power in the legislature, drawing criticism legislative Democrats and the governor who accused them of an “unconstitutional legislative power grab.”
At a press conference Tuesday, House Democratic leader Robert Reives commented on the legislative session broadly and raised concerns about the efforts by Republicans to consolidate power in the General Assembly.
“Number one thing that seemed to be on their mind was moving toward eroding even more power from the executive branch,” said Reives. “And, we’ve already seen how that power has been used to appoint political supporters and campaign donors, and that’s only going to continue.”
The hearing this week will focus on Senate Bill 512, which became law earlier this month after Republicans voted to override Cooper’s veto.
The new law gives the legislature greater authority to choose who sits on boards that oversee important public matters such as transportation, public health and regulation of public utilities. The lawsuit also challenges a provision in House Bill 488 which created the Residential Code Council.
In the lawsuit, Cooper cited previous state Supreme Court decisions in 2016 and 2018 over similar matters in which the court upheld the separation of powers.
“I’m prepared to have any decisions they made relative to the balance of power, we’re prepared to have those relitigated if necessary,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told reporters last week.
The state Supreme Court, which has a 5-2 Republican majority, already this year has reversed decisions made when the court had a Democratic majority at the request of Republican legislative leaders.
In a separate lawsuit, Cooper is also challenging a new law that takes power from him to appoint people to state and county boards overseeing elections. The legislature would have that power instead. In addition, the boards would become evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Currently, the majority on those boards is the same party as the governor.
While courts have struck down past efforts by Republicans to make a similar change, legislative leaders believe the current state Supreme Court is likely to uphold the law they enacted this time.
When asked about the moves by the legislature dealing with separation of powers, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger pointed to steps taken by Cooper in the last few years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was “more of an effort by the executive branch to assume powers that in practice had not been there before. I mean, you see the number of executive orders that were issued.”
He also pointed to the potential for the state to remain in the current political dynamic where Republicans control the General Assembly while the governor is a Democrat, noting it could be the case “for a while.”
“So, I think what you’re seeing is an effort to try to address what the balance ought to be under those circumstances,” said Berger.