News: Quick Takes

Court sides with Cooper; issues temporary order blocking Cabinet confirmation process

This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. Wednesday to include information released in a statement by Sen. Wesley Meredith, R-Cumberland, co-chair of the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee.

RALEIGH — A three-judge Superior Court panel has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state Senate from conducting confirmation hearings of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Cabinet appointees.

Superior Court Judges Jesse B. Caldwell III, L. Todd Burke, and Jeffrey B. Foster issued the order after an hour-long teleconference hearing Tuesday, 

The panel found Cooper’s attorneys had shown a likelihood of success on the merits of the case and that the governor, without the order, is “likely to sustain irreparable harm.”

“Plaintiff Governor Cooper does not have any duty to take any action to implement or enforce Part III of House Bill 17 and may so inform the individuals he has appointed to lead the principal departments,” the judges’ order reads.

Part III of House Bill 17, passed by the General Assembly and signed by then-Gov. Pat McCrory, invokes a constitutional provision saying, “The Governor shall nominate and by and with the advice and consent of a majority of the Senators appoint all officers whose appointments are not otherwise provided for.”

A Senate committee had scheduled a Wednesday morning meeting to take up the confirmation of former state Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, for secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Other such committee hearings for Cabinet officers were tentatively scheduled between now and mid-March.

In the news release, from the office of Senate leader Phil Berger, Meredith called the judges’ order “unprecedented in state history.”

“Never before has a judge told the representatives elected by the citizens that they cannot hold a committee meeting as allowed by the constitution. The Committee is here today and ready to proceed.”

Hall failed to show up, and the meeting was postponed.

“But make no mistake,” Meredith says in the release, “the General Assembly will meet to review the qualifications of Gov. Cooper’s cabinet nominees as allowed by the constitution, and we are going to get answers to questions regarding their qualifications, potential conflicts of interest and willingness to obey the law.”

Legislative leaders were quick to denounce the judges’ order. In a joint statement, Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said, “In a gross misreading of the Constitution and a blatant overstep of their constitutional authority, three Superior Court judges attempted to dictate to the legislature when it could or could not hold committee meetings and what it could or could not consider in those meetings. This unprecedented move would be like the legislature telling a judge what jurors to pick to decide a case. Judges are not legislators, and if these three men want to make laws, they should hang up their robes and run for a legislative seat. Their decision to legislate from the bench will have profound consequences, and they should immediately reconvene their panel and reverse their order.”

“There is no question,” says Meredith, “these nominees will wield a lot of power, control multi-billion dollar budgets and make decisions that affect millions of North Carolinians — but as of today, Gov. Cooper hasn’t even said how much the taxpayers are paying his nominees.”

The order, unless blocked by a higher court, will remain in effect until 11 a.m. Friday, when the same three-judge panel is scheduled to meet to hear a request for a longer-lasting preliminary injunction on the issue.