North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will sue state legislative leaders over two proposed constitutional amendments that he wants to keep off the ballot in this November’s elections.
Cooper, a Democrat, said that the amendments would be an unconstitutional power grab by the Republicans in the General Assembly and that the amendments themselves are worded in a misleading way to trick voters. The two amendments would take away Cooper’s power to appoint judges, regulators, board members and other state officials, and transfer that power to the legislature.
Cooper’s announcement came Saturday evening, just hours after the legislature overrode two of Cooper’s vetoes on different election-related bills that are now law.
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One of the bills that became law on Saturday strips power away from a committee that previously would’ve been responsible for writing short descriptions of the amendments for the ballot. Cooper said that with that law now in place, the only language describing the amendments will be “false and misleading” descriptions written by the legislature. He believes a judge should order two of the six amendments to be taken off the ballot entirely.
A draft copy of the lawsuit Cooper plans to file Monday begins with sweeping accusations against the Republican-led General Assembly.
“The General Assembly has proposed two amendments to the North Carolina Constitution that would take a wrecking ball to the separation of powers,” Cooper’s lawsuit states. “These proposed amendments would rewrite bedrock constitutional provisions— including the Separation of Powers Clause itself.
“They would overrule recent decisions of the North Carolina Supreme Court,” the legal argument continues. “They would strip the Governor of his authority to appoint thousands of officials to hundreds of boards and commissions that execute the laws of our State. They would confer exclusive authority on the General Assembly to choose those whom the Governor can consider to fill judicial vacancies. And they ultimately threaten to consolidate control over all three branches of government in the General Assembly.”
Earlier on Saturday, Republican legislators anticipated Cooper’s lawsuit and criticized anyone who would sue over the amendments.
“It’s an attempt not to let the voters weigh in and speak their minds if they’re for or against the amendment,” Harnett County Republican Rep. Davis Lewis, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, said. “It’s an attempt to once again use the courts to short-circuit the will of the people.”
In the past several years, state and federal courts have overturned more than a dozen laws written by Lewis and his colleagues. One of those was a 2013 voter ID law, which a federal court struck down as unconstitutional for targeting African-American voters “with almost surgical precision” — but legislators have not been dissuaded, and one of the six amendments on this November’s ballot would create a voter ID law.
All six of the amendments that legislators want to put before voters this November have drawn at least some controversy, and the two Cooper is targeting are among the most controversial.
Both would take power away from the governor’s office and transfer it to the legislature, which has been a continuing goal of Republican lawmakers since before Cooper was sworn in at the start of 2017.
One of the proposed amendments would transfer the power to fill judicial vacancies from Cooper’s office to the legislature. The other proposed amendment would make even broader changes to state government, giving the General Assembly all of the power to appoint regulators, board members and other officials.
But when voters go to the polls this November, they won’t know any of that simply by reading their ballots, Cooper said. The only language describing that amendment on the ballot will say: “Constitutional amendment to establish a bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to administer ethics and election laws, to clarify the appointment authority of the Legislative and the Judicial Branches, and to prohibit legislators from serving on boards and commissions exercising executive or judicial authority.”
Cooper said the legislature is clearly trying to trick voters.
This is not the first time Cooper has sued the General Assembly in his 18 months as governor, alleging unconstitutional power grabs.
As soon as Cooper defeated the Republican incumbent, Pat McCrory, in the 2016 election, the Republican-led legislature began stripping powers away from the governor’s office.
Republican lawmakers reclassified the jobs of hundreds of McCrory’s political appointees within state government to stop Cooper from replacing them with his own picks, and they changed the law so that Democrats would not be able to have a majority on the state elections board. They’ve also acted to constrain Cooper’s ability to appoint judges and members of state boards.