Gov. Roy Cooper was recently handed a temporary win in court by a majority-Republican three-judge panel over his request to block a new elections law, SB 749, before voters head to the polls in 2024, WRAL reported.
The three judges – two Republicans and one Democrat – ruled unanimously in the governor’s favor. The panel agreed with Cooper that the law Republicans passed in October that would strip the governor’s power over the NC State Board of Elections and give that power to the legislature is likely an unconstitutional power grab.
The ruling is temporary pending a full trial, which will likely happen in early 2024.
“This is not a close case,” Cooper’s lawyer Jim Phillips said, citing three Supreme Court rulings on political power grabs in recent decades that he said all backup Cooper’s position. “It is clear that the legislature has given itself power that the Constitution vests in the executive branch.”
Democrats consistently criticized the changes as unconstitutional and they quickly celebrated the court ruling.
“The people’s faith in fair and free elections is at the very heart of a thriving democracy,” top Democratic lawmakers Sen. Dan Blue and Rep. Robert Reives said in a joint statement. “We applaud the unanimous decision to block Republicans’ latest assault on our democratic process. The court’s clear rejection of the GOP’s attempted power grab is a win for voters and our state constitution.”
The governor’s appointment power isn’t the only thing changed by the law – SB 749 would also make the board of elections have an even number of seats for both parties, instead of giving a majority to whichever party controls the governor’s office.
Republicans claimed that the law is needed to improve “election integrity.” Critics point out that it would only lead to chaos when it comes to how the state administers elections – and could potentially lead to the end of early voting and other serious political issues because having an evenly split elections board would result in deadlocked votes and inaction.
The law is very similar to one ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2018. While it may seem foolish to try implementing a law already ruled unconstitutional, the original ruling was made by a Democratic-controlled Supreme Court. The current court is controlled 5-2 by Republicans and GOP legislators know that the current court is willing to re-hear previously decided cases.
Republicans acknowledged that they based SB 749 on the bill that was previously ruled unconstitutional. They said they’re hopeful they will get a better ruling this time.
“Ultimately, the case has to get to the state Supreme Court, for the state Supreme Court to hopefully revisit what I would consider to be bad precedent,” Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said.
Before the state Supreme Court can hear the case, it must go to trial. The three-judge panel told both sides to agree on a trial schedule for January or February since the state’s primary will be in March.