The Republican-led N.C. General Assembly scored a victory in its ongoing legal war with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, as a three-judge panel rejected Cooper’s latest lawsuit against lawmakers. The judges ruled that they had no jurisdiction in the case.
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter responded to the news. “The decision that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear this case is completely inconsistent with this panel’s own ruling in March and with the Supreme Court’s decision in McCrory v Berger,” Porter said in an emailed statement. “It looks like the threats from the legislature had an effect on these judges, and we believe the higher courts will respond differently in order to protect access to the ballot box for North Carolina voters.”
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, noted in their own statement that the unanimous panel issued its ruling “just hours after hearing arguments.”
“Today the three-judge panel swiftly rejected Roy Cooper’s latest attempt to drag his political battles into the courtroom — and instead delivered a victory to North Carolina voters, who should now expect their elections and ethics laws to be enforced fairly and with bipartisan cooperation,” Berger and Moore said. “We encourage the governor to accept this result and abandon his taxpayer-funded pursuit of total control of the board responsible for regulating his own ethics and campaign finance conduct.”
The panel of two Democratic judges and one Republican colleague was addressing a challenge to Senate Bill 68. That law, approved over Cooper’s veto, represented the General Assembly’s second attempt to merge existing state elections and ethics boards into a single eight-member board. The three-judge panel had rejected lawmakers’ first attempt to merge the boards.
In the earlier case, the judges ruled that the General Assembly had not given the governor enough power over appointments to the new elections and ethics board. A revised version of the new board gives Cooper the power to appoint all eight members. Membership must be split evenly between the two major parties.
Cooper’s latest court challenge, filed just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, attacks recent legislative actions on three fronts. First, the governor asks the courts to throw out a law that cuts back membership of the N.C. Court of Appeals from 15 to 12. That goal would be accomplished by getting rid of three Appeals Court seats as judges vacate those seats through resignation, retirement, or death.
Second, Cooper challenges a law that allowed predecessor Pat McCrory to make two appointments to the N.C. Industrial Commission before leaving office. Third, Cooper asks judges to force the General Assembly to comply with a previous N.C. Supreme Court ruling favoring McCrory over legislative leaders.