News: Quick Takes

Top senator labels latest Cooper lawsuit ‘another power grab’

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell (CJ photo by Dan Way)
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell (CJ photo by Dan Way)

The N.C. Senate’s leader on election law issues is blasting the latest lawsuit from Gov. Roy Cooper. The suit challenges the makeup of a state body that oversees government rules.

“It’s another power grab, plain and simple,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, in a news release. Hise co-chairs the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee. He also leads a Senate committee on election and redistricting issues.

Cooper’s new suit is the latest in a series of cases named Cooper v. Berger. In this complaint, the governor takes aim at the Rules Review Commission. The General Assembly appoints all 10 commission members. The group reviews rules and regulations drafted by state government agencies.

“The current makeup of the RRC allows the legislature to interfere with and undermine the executive branch’s authority to establish policy through rulemaking,” according to a memo from Cooper’s communications office. “This authority is used to make important rules that protect the environment, safeguard public safety, and preserve public and individual health.”

“It could even block the executive branch’s ability to quickly and fully respond to COVID-19-related issues,” according to the Cooper administration memo. “In recent years, the RRC has been particularly active in second-guessing the policy judgments of the Department of Health & Human Services.”

“Today’s lawsuit contends that the RRC, as currently composed, is unconstitutional and should have a majority of its members appointed by the executive branch,” the memo concludes.

Cooper’s team emphasizes recent RRC rulings against proposed rules dealing with public safety and health and human services.

Hise offers a different story. He notes in a press release that the Rules Review Commission has operated in its current form since 1986. Democrats dominated leadership of the General Assembly at the time. The RRC had been operating for a quarter-century before Republicans took control of both chambers of the General Assembly in 2011.

“Governor Cooper, who is a candidate for office this year, successfully sued to gain full partisan control of the formerly bipartisan Board of Elections,” Hise said in his release. “The candidate for North Carolina’s top office controls the administration of his own election.

“A few months ago, the Governor’s partisan Board of Elections sought to ignore state law by issuing an illegal order to further expand its control over the election,” Hise added. “The Rules Review Commission stepped in to block the illegal order.

“Now, the Governor is using the same strategy he employed to gain control of elections administration to try to gain control of the Rules Review Commission. His answer for getting caught trying to illegally consolidate power over his own election is to sue to undo a check on executive authority that’s existed for 34 years.”