The N.C. Supreme Court late Wednesday night denied Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to hear a challenge on the two rewritten constitutional amendments the General Assembly passed during a special session.
Earlier Wednesday, Cooper had said the state legislature was trying to mislead voters and had dragged its feet on court-ordered changes. Cooper made his comments as he announced that he had asked the North Carolina Supreme Court to stop those two rewritten constitutional amendments from appearing on the November ballot.
Cooper has already won one lawsuit over the same two amendments, which would take powers from the governor’s office and give that power to the legislature instead. That win caused lawmakers to return to Raleigh on Monday to rewrite the amendments.
On Twitter Wednesday night, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said: ”I’m pleased the N.C. Supreme Court rejected Gov. Cooper’s attempt to circumvent the judicial process. I call on Gov. Cooper to stand down and let the people vote. It’s time to stop playing games.”
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Cooper, in asking the state Supreme Court to step in, was trying to avoid going back to trial court for rulings on the new amendment, a process that could delay the printing of election ballots. With Wednesday night’s ruling, however, means a lower court must rule on the new amendments.
In all, the General Assembly has six constitutional amendments that lawmakers want voters to approve on Election Day.
“The events of the past few weeks have followed a pattern that has become all too familiar in our state in recent years,” Cooper said in a written statement Wednesday. “The General Assembly violated the North Carolina Constitution — it devised false and misleading ballot questions that threatened to deceive the voters into adopting proposed constitutional amendments that would have abolished the separation of powers.”
Senate leader Phil Berger said that the amendments are necessary for good government.
“These new amendments address the court’s concerns, and we’re confident voters will agree that a bipartisan elections and ethics board is in the best interest of our state, and that governors should not enjoy unchecked power to appoint their friends and staff to the court,” Berger said in a written statement.
Despite assurances Monday from Republican leaders that they had made enough changes to comply with the court order, Democrats said voters will still see misleading or even false information on the ballots when they read about the amendments.
But no matter what happens in this case, the ballots could still be delayed. This is only one of several lawsuits going on that are affecting the fast-approaching midterm elections.
A lawsuit similar to Cooper’s, filed by the NAACP against four of the proposed amendments (including the same two Cooper is suing over) won a temporary victory at the Supreme Court earlier on Wednesday when the justices let the case continue and stopped the state from printing any ballots before it’s over. And in federal court, a panel of judges on Monday ruled that all 13 of the state’s Congressional districts used to elect members of the U.S. House of Representatives are unconstitutional, and must be quickly re-drawn in the coming weeks. Republican legislators are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to halt that ruling, saying it’s impossible to comply — but experts say it can be done.
The North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics enforcement said Wednesday that while its leaders normally would’ve have wanted all the ballots printed by Sept. 7, to comply with state law, that’s not going to happen at this point because of all the numerous lawsuits holding up the process. There is a federal deadline of Sept. 22 to have them all printed, and the elections board said that while it normally would need to start printing ballots in the next few days to meet that deadline, “staff is exploring additional options to ensure federal compliance if delays continue.”
Details of the amendments
One of the amendments would shift the power to appoint new judges to vacant seats from the governor to the legislature. The other amendment would change the makeup of the N.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, and also transfer the power to pick members of the board from the governor’s office to the legislature.
The election board changes would be yet another major shakeup to that board in recent years.
The elections board used to have a majority of its members from the same party as the governor, but the legislature changed that after Cooper defeated former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, in the 2016 election.
After a lawsuit, the new makeup of the board was set as four Democrats, four Republicans and one politically unafilliated member, to serve as a tie-breaker. This amendment, if it passes, would get rid of the ninth tiebreaker seat and create a new board with eight members split evenly between the Democrats and Republicans, and chosen by the legislature instead of the governor.
Lauren Horsch of NCInsider.com contributed.