The state House on Thursday passed three bills that would limit the governor’s ability to appoint judges, and sent the proposals to the Senate.
Republicans portrayed the trio as streamlining the courts’ workload and making the naming of judges to fill vacancies more public. Democrats said there was no need for what they called the “sweeping” changes, which appeared in a committee meeting with little public input on Wednesday and were sent directly to the full House.
One bill would reduce the size of the state Court of Appeals by not filling the next three vacancies that occur. The governor makes those appointments, but Cooper would lose that ability if the court is shrunk.
Republicans said the court’s workload has decreased. Democrats said the court would be immediately hobbled by the upcoming retirement of Judge Doug McCullough in June because that would leave only 14 members.
The appeals court currently meets in five panels of three judges. The appeals court increased to 15 in 2000 because of a backlog of cases. That caseload has been whittled down, but opponents are concerned that it will build up again if the court can only run four panels of judges.
The next two judges reach the retirement age of 72 in 2019.
The bills were approved mostly along party lines, although a handful of Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the appeals court and superior court bills.