After losing a lawsuit against Gov. Roy Cooper, the North Carolina legislature had to return to Raleigh to rewrite two of the changes to the state constitution they want to put in front of voters on this November’s ballot.
Just a few hours after they finalized their changes on Monday afternoon — which Republican leaders say they think ought to satisfy the courts — Cooper’s office shot back and said the lawsuits are not over yet.
“Yes, you can expect further legal action,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in response to a News & Observer question about a potential lawsuit. “Less than a week before ballots are to be printed, rather than repeal their old misleading amendments, Republicans have passed more misleading amendments to erode checks and balances in our state’s constitution.”
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Earlier in the day Monday, Republicans seemed to have anticipated a potential lawsuit from Cooper. In a written statement, Republican Sen. Ralph Hise said Cooper shouldn’t have sued the first time and shouldn’t sue again over the new versions of the amendments the General Assembly passed as a response to the initial lawsuit.
“The fact of the matter is the people of North Carolina are the ones who should decide what they want in their constitution, and hopefully the governor will abandon further attempts to take away North Carolinians’ right to vote,” Hise said.
Cooper, on the other hand, criticized Republican legislators in a campaign fundraising email that said they “will seemingly stop at nothing to tear down North Carolina’s separation of powers and the checks and balances we count on for our democracy.”
While both sides are engaging in their war of words, voters can educate themselves as to what the amendments would actually do.
Below are links to the laws passed Monday, as well as important parts of the text that describe the changes being proposed.
Elections board amendment
What voters will see on the ballot: “Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law.”
What’s changed: The first version would have removed Cooper’s power to fill numerous positions in various state government boards and commissions. This second version, passed Monday, took that language out and only deals with the elections board.
The wording of the new proposed changes:
(1) The Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement shall be established to administer ethics and elections law, as prescribed by general law. The Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement shall be located within the Executive Branch for administrative purposes only and shall exercise all of its powers independently of the Executive Branch.
(2) The Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement shall consist of eight members, each serving a term of four years, who shall be qualified voters of this State. Of the total membership, no more than four members may be registered with the same political affiliation, if defined by general law. Appointments shall be made by the Governor as follows: (a) Four members upon the recommendation of the leader, as prescribed by general law, of each of the two Senate political party caucuses with the most members. The Governor shall not appoint more than two members from the recommendations of each leader. (b) Four members upon the recommendation of the leader, as prescribed by general law, of each of the two House of Representatives political party caucuses with the most members. The Governor shall not appoint more than two members from the recommendations of each leader.
(3) The General Assembly shall enact general laws governing how appointments shall be made if the Governor fails to appoint a member within 10 days of receiving recommendations as required by this section.”
What voters will see on the ballot: “Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend at least two nominees to the Governor via legislative action not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.”
What’s changed: The amendment previously contained a clause that some thought might have given the legislature the ability to circumvent the governor’s veto power. Republican lawmakers said that wasn’t their intention, and the new version of the amendment removed that part.
The wording of the new proposed changes, regarding judicial vacancies:
(1) All vacancies occurring in the offices of Justice or Judge of the General Court of Justice shall be filled as provided in this section. Appointees shall hold their places until the next election following the election for members of the General Assembly held after the appointment occurs, when elections shall be held to fill those offices. When the vacancy occurs on or after the sixtieth day before the next election for members of the General Assembly and the term would expire on December 31 of that same year, the Chief Justice shall appoint to fill that vacancy for the unexpired term of the office.
(2) In filling any vacancy in the office of Justice or Judge of the General Court of Justice, individuals shall be nominated on merit by the people of the State to fill that vacancy. In a manner prescribed by law, nominations shall be received from the people of the State by a nonpartisan commission established under this section, which shall evaluate each nominee without regard to the nominee’s partisan affiliation, but rather with respect to whether that nominee is qualified or not qualified to fill the vacant office, as prescribed by law. The evaluation of each nominee of people of the State shall be forwarded to the General Assembly, as prescribed by law. The General Assembly shall recommend to the Governor, for each vacancy, at least two of the nominees deemed qualified by a nonpartisan commission under this section. For each vacancy, within 10 days after the nominees are presented, the Governor shall appoint the nominee the Governor deems best qualified to serve from the nominees recommended by the General Assembly.
(3) The Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission shall consist of no more than nine members whose appointments shall be allocated between the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Governor, and the General Assembly, as prescribed by law. The General Assembly shall, by general law, provide for the establishment of local merit commissions for the nomination of judges of the Superior and District Court. Appointments to local merit commissions shall be allocated between the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Governor, and the General Assembly, as prescribed by law. Neither the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Governor, nor the General Assembly shall be allocated a majority of appointments to a nonpartisan commission established under this section.
(4) If the Governor fails to make an appointment within 10 days after the nominees are presented by the General Assembly, the General Assembly shall elect, in joint session and by a majority of the members of each chamber present and voting, an appointee to fill the vacancy in a manner prescribed by law.
(5) If the General Assembly has adjourned sine die or for more than 30 days jointly as provided under Section 20 of Article II of this Constitution, the Chief Justice shall have the authority to appoint a qualified individual to fill a vacant office of Justice or Judge of the General Court of Justice if any of the following apply: (a) The vacancy occurs during the period of adjournment. (b) The General Assembly adjourned without presenting nominees to the Governor as required under subsection (2) of this section or failed to elect a nominee as required under subsection (4) of this section. (c) The Governor failed to appoint a recommended nominee under subsection (2) of this section.
(6) Any appointee by the Chief Justice shall have the same powers and duties as any other Justice or Judge of the General Court of Justice, when duly assigned to hold court in an interim capacity, and shall serve until the earlier of: (a) Appointment by the Governor. (b) Election by the General Assembly. (c) The first day of January succeeding the next election of the members of the General Assembly, and such election shall include the office for which the appointment was made.
However, no appointment by the Governor or election by the General Assembly to fill a judicial vacancy shall occur after an election to fill that judicial office has commenced, as prescribed by law.
The wording of the new changes being proposed, regarding district attorneys:
(3) Vacancies. All vacancies occurring in the office of District Attorney shall be filled by appointment of the Governor, and the appointees shall hold their places until the next election for members of the General Assembly that is held more than 60 days after the vacancy occurs, when elections shall be held to fill the offices. When the unexpired term in which a vacancy has occurred expires on the first day of January succeeding the next election for members of the General Assembly, the Governor shall appoint to fill that vacancy for the unexpired term of the office.