Sarah Kate Purnell
In December 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law enacting the use of confirmation hearings in order to confirm and assess appointed governmental nominees.
The confirmation hearings, foreign to North Carolina tradition, came just before the transition in power between former Governor Pat McCrory and current Governor Roy Cooper.
Prior to the ruling, state law read, “The head of each principal State department, except those departments headed by popularly elected officers, shall be appointed by the Governor and serve at his pleasure.”
The confirmation hearing schedule will take a total of six weeks in order to approve Roy Cooper’s appointments to office.
Gov. Cooper has already publically appointed individuals to take over various state departments. However, these appointments are now considered nominations and will have to go through the confirmation process, rather than being directly appointed by the Governor. After the hearings from the NC Senate, the nominations will be confirmed or denied.
In the confirmation hearings the nominees are encouraged to give testimony and are subject to answer questions as asked by the committee members.
The confirmation hearings have created tension between Phil Berger and Tim Moore – Republican legislative leaders – and Gov. Cooper, in Berger and Moore’s insistence of the process.
Gov. Cooper has requested a block on the confirmation hearings, claiming that the hearings are unconstitutional. Cooper has offered compromise, however Berger will not comply.
On Feb 7, a three-panel judge discussed temporarily halting the confirmation hearings, just one day before the first scheduled hearing.
According to the News & Observer, Cooper argued that the Senate was violating the Constitution and was not authorized to take part in the appointment process.
Analysis by NC Policy Watch indicates the confirmation hearings would create a shift in power to allow the Senate to pick and choose Cooper’s appointments. Essentially, they could deny an appointment for any reason and only fill the official positions with Republicans.
Countering Cooper’s remarks, Berger and Moore claimed that the hearings would not violate the Constitution and that blocking the confirmation hearings would interfere and prevent the Senate from doing business.
The next day, following the judge’s discussion, the Senate Commerce Committee met to hold the first confirmation hearing, despite the judge’s temporary hold. Former Rep. Larry Hall, the Senate’s first scheduled hearing, did not show for the event.
Former Rep. Hall is Gov. Cooper’s appointment for head the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
The confirmation hearing law has been controversial throughout the state. Those opposing them, as well as Gov. Cooper, have also expressed that the hearing process takes away valuable time from progressing forward and implementing the work that Cooper hopes to accomplish.
“I know we disagree on the constitutionality of this law, but I hope we can resolve this issue concerning the delay of hearings in a manner that reflects a spirit of respect for the offices we both hold and the people of the state we both serve,” Cooper stated in a letter to Berger, according to NC Policy Watch.
The confirmation hearings still remain on hold while Gov. Cooper battles the new law against Berger and Moore.