State Politics

Another standoff with GOP over Cooper’s powers looms

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper holds a press conference at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh on March 30, 2017.
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper holds a press conference at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh on March 30, 2017.

A renewed attempt by Republicans at whittling the governor’s powers would limit his choices in appointing judges and prosecutors to fill vacancies.

House Bill 335 would require a governor to choose from lists of three names provided by the executive committee of the political party of the official who is leaving office before his or her term ends. Currently, those vacancies can be filled based solely on the governor’s choice, with people of any political affiliation.

The bill passed a House judiciary committee on Tuesday by a vote of 7-5, and next goes to a vote of the full House. It would affect state Supreme Court justices, appeals court and superior court judges and district attorneys.

“It’s just another court-tampering bill,” Melissa Price Kromm, director of Voters for Clean Elections, told the committee. “Why do judges even have to be associated with political parties? We should keep our courts fair and impartial.”

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson of Knightdale described the bill as “just another litigation waiting to happen.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, said the new process of filling vacancies would respect the will of the voters by ensuring their choices aren’t replaced by an appointee from the other party.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and his Republican predecessor, Pat McCrory, have faced a number of showdowns with the Republican leadership of the General Assembly over how far executive branch authority extends. Cooper is suing legislative leaders over two bills passed after McCrory lost re-election last year.

On Tuesday, the General Assembly overrode Cooper’s veto of a bill merging the elections and ethics boards. It would require the governor to choose members of the board from lists provided by the political parties. The governor’s party now controls the elections board.

Cooper also vetoed a bill reducing the N.C. Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 members, which would prevent the governor from replacing the next three judges who reach mandatory retirement age. There were expected to be three such situations in the remainder of Cooper’s first term, all Republicans.

One of those judges, Doug McCullough, announced his retirement on Monday and Cooper immediately replaced him with John Arrowood, a Democrat.  

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO