On Aug. 28, 2017, North Carolina Supreme Court Justices heard the case of Cooper v. Berger and Moore, a challenge filed by current Governor Roy Cooper.
The case was filed after conservative legislative leaders attempted to limit Cooper’s power after his governor’s seat victory in November 2016. Former Governor Pat McCrory and his fellow Republicans met during a special session prior to the end of 2016 with an objective to pass bills to limit the power the governor holds, in turn giving more power to the General Assembly.
Specifically, a bill from the special session took action in combining the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission into a new agency all together. This action greatly diminished Cooper’s powers in appointing new governing members after his inauguration. This law was later struck down as unconstitutional and rewritten before passing again despite a veto from Cooper in April.
A summary of the law before it was rewritten was made by voting rights experts at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University of Law.
“The new law combines the State Board of Elections with the State Ethics Commission into one evenly-divided eight-member body. The governor’s power to vote people to the board is limited; both the Republican and Democratic Parties must provide the governor with a list of six nominees. He must choose four members from each list.”
The law continued to say that the Executive Director of the current Board of Elections, a Republican, would become Executive Director of the newly combined agency. Any action would take a vote of six of the new board’s eight members. The law would have restructured North Carolina’s county boards of elections so that they would also be evenly-divided. Chairmanship of the state and county boards would rotate annually, with Republicans almost being ensured the win due to fewer statewide regulations according to the law. The case is now in the Supreme Court but no new appointments to the board can be made.
Another law specifically made it so that the General Assembly could entrench a political party in power even if the party began losing voter support, therefore creating an unchecked, unaccountable government dominated by one political faction. A brief filed by the Brennan Center lawyers argues that the law in question was unconstitutional and an attempt to place Republicans in power.
“Political entrenchment is more than partisan or factional advantage. It manipulates electoral rules and governmental structure to make it so that the rule-making party always wins rather than the voters having an actual say in the matter. Democracy rules may at times benefit one side. Entrenchment happens when the group in power tries to make that advantage permanent. That is the case here.”
Another lawsuit by Cooper challenges other recent acts committed by the General Assembly. These acts include shrinking the State Court of Appeals, depriving the governor of his right to fill vacancies, as well as removing the governor’s power to control Industrial Commission, and passing legislation to tell the governor what he must include in his proposed budget.
In the event that the Supreme Court was to uphold the changes, there would only be a short window of time before the office would limit the governor’s powers completely. The case is expected to resolve in favor of Cooper.