Judicial Panel Gives Gov. Cooper (Partial) Victory Over Republican Legislators In Separation of Powers Lawsuit

Source: WRAL

A three-judge panel granted Gov. Roy Cooper a partial victory over Republican legislators earlier this month, WRAL reported.

On Nov. 1, the panel blocked legislative appointments to three major state boards after the legislature voted earlier this year to steal some of the governor’s appointment powers, as well as make other changes. 

Cooper had argued that these actions were an unconstitutional power grab. A panel of two Republican judges and one Democrat agreed with him when it comes to who has the power to appoint people to the State Board of Transportation, the Commission for Public Health and the Economic Investment Commission, which approves multimillion-dollar state grants for businesses that promise to create jobs.

The judicial panel heard arguments and then quickly blocked Republican appointments to those three boards. The governor’s victory could be short-lived, though. The preliminary injunction granted by the judges will stay in effect while Cooper’s lawsuit over the legislation goes through the court system, which could take months. By granting the injunction, the panel decided the governor would likely win his case and prove the legislature’s changes to those boards unconstitutional.

The panel wasn’t convinced on appointment shifts to other boards, though, and declined to block new appointments to the Environmental Management Commission or the Coastal Resources Commission, WRAL reported. Cooper’s legal team said it might appeal that decision.

The judges delayed any decision on two other boards — the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the state Building Code Council — because the changes aren’t set to take effect until 2025 and likely won’t need to be blocked beforehand.

The changes being challenged by the governor were included in Senate Bill 512, which was passed by Republicans and then quickly vetoed. Cooper filed a lawsuit challenging the law just hours after Republicans overrode his veto.

The governor called the law a “blatantly unconstitutional legislative power grab.”

“Over the years, the North Carolina Supreme Court has repeatedly held in bipartisan decisions that the legislature cannot seize executive power like this no matter what political parties control which offices,” Cooper said. “The efforts of Republican legislators to destroy the checks and balances in our constitution are bad for people and bad for our democracy.”

North Carolina’s constitution says that the General Assembly passes laws, but the executive branch enforces them. This is at the heart of Cooper’s argument.

“They seek to make the law and enforce the law,” Jim Phillips, one of Cooper’s lawyers in the case, said during oral arguments. “And that is what our [constitution’s] framers warned against time and again.”

Cooper and his predecessor, Republican Pat McCrory, have won lawsuits similar to this one in the past against the General Assembly’s Republican majority.


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