Here we go again. Gov. Roy Cooper, trying to protect not just his rightful authority but that of future governors, has filed another lawsuit over his appointive powers. The Republican-led legislature has tried to chip away at the governor’s power since Cooper defeated incumbent Republican Pat McCrory in November. Cooper is fighting back in court: He will win some and lose some — as he did recently over the merger of the ethics commission and elections board.
A lot is at stake: Separation of powers is an important principle of democracy at all levels, and not something to be trifled with because of petty partisan differences and a legislature run amok. GOP leaders drew restricting maps before Cooper took office designed clearly to skew congressional and legislative districts in their favor, with little regard for orderly districts that made geographic and representative sense. They delivered districts that courts have found were racially gerrymandered, packing African-Americans into fewer districts that would go Democratic but weakening those voters’ powers to influence elections in other districts. Result: long-term dominance by Republicans.
They even reached down to local governments, trying to give their party an edge in races, like those for Wake County commissioners’ seats. Much of what they did is in court and will likely remain so for some time. And some of the redistricting was so blatant that it may result in a special election in 2018.
But now Cooper is trying to draw some lines, figuratively speaking. Republicans reduced the size of the state Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 members, because Cooper has the right to replace retiring members and three Republicans are going to retire before their terms are up. This GOP-led change is little more than an attempt to reduce Cooper’s power. Thus, Cooper is suing.
The legislature’s leadership also gave McCrory the right to appoint two people to the Industrial Commission, which reviews workers’ grievances, and he installed two Republicans, including the wife of his chief of staff. This and other appointive powers have also been reduced.
Cooper’s lawyer, Jim Phillips, makes a sound point that a governor’s election signals public support for that candidate’s policies. For Republicans to take a governor’s powers for themselves isn’t just an insult to that governor – it’s a repudiation of the public’s democratically exercised choice.
Republicans were fairly given majority power by the people in 2010. But Cooper was fairly given the power of his office in 2016.
With control of the General Assembly, Republicans have a great deal of power as designated by the state constitution. But Cooper, as governor, is entitled to his authority, in the spirit of a balance of power. He should not have to fight for his authority in court, but he’s had little choice.
GOP leaders have little logical comeback to Cooper’s legal actions, other than whining about how Cooper’s lawsuits make it difficult for the branches of government to work together – a ludicrous claim, given Republicans’ total disinterest in cooperating with the governor on anything. The irony in that, of course, is that Cooper was elected statewide and members of the General Assembly were elected by districts.
In short, Cooper should proceed with his lawsuits as necessary to protect not just his power but also that of his office. It is not political convenience. It is a service to the public, and to the state’s constitutional mandates.