State GOP objects to Sept. 5 hearing in leadership lawsuit

N.C. Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley addresses the state GOP convention. (Image from David Cobb)

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  • The North Carolina Republican Party objects to a planned Sept. 5 Wake County court hearing in a lawsuit challenging the party's recent election for chairman.
  • State GOP lawyers filed a motion this week to delay a hearing on a possible preliminary injunction. Republicans ask for action first on their motion to dismiss the case.
  • Three delegates to the party's June convention object to the process used to elect Michael Whatley to another term as state party chairman.

The state Republican Party objects to a planned Sept. 5 Wake County court hearing in a lawsuit challenging the party’s recent leadership election. State GOP lawyers urge a judge to delay the hearing on a possible injunction in the case.

The party argued in a motion filed Wednesday that the court should rule first on the GOP’s motion to dismiss the case.

“Indeed, resolution of Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss in Defendant’s favor would necessarily dispose of Plaintiffs’ Complaint in its entirety, thus making any subsequent hearings unnecessary,” according to the motion.

“If for nothing more than judicial economy, delaying Plaintiffs’ hearing on their Motion for Preliminary Injunction until Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is decided allows this Court the opportunity to fully resolve the matter before it even confronts the questions presented by the Preliminary Injunction and the evidentiary hearings which would follow,” the motion added.

GOP lawyers filed a separate document Wednesday seeking an extension of time to respond to discovery in the case. Discovery is the legal process of collecting documents and conducting interviews in preparation for hearings and a trial.

Monday’s notice of the Sept. 5 hearing arrived five days after GOP leaders filed a motion to dismiss the case.

“Plaintiffs’ Complaint should be dismissed in its entirety because Plaintiffs lack standing to bring this action,” wrote attorneys representing the state party on Aug. 16. “Additionally, Plaintiffs’ Complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, as Plaintiffs’ Complaint, on its face, fails to establish the necessary elements for any plausible claims as alleged.”

Three Republicans filed a lawsuit in July to block results of the state GOP’s June leadership vote. The suit in Wake County Superior Court challenges the process the party used to elect a chairman during its state convention.

Michael Whatley defeated challenger John Kane Jr. to win another term as state party chairman. The lawsuit questions the vote. Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction against the state GOP.

Mike Urben of Wake County, Andrae DeHaan of Surry County, and Aryn Schloemer of Guilford County are plaintiffs in the case. Each was a delegate to the June state GOP convention.

“According to purported NCGOP Chair Michael Whatley, ‘there are few issues more important than election integrity and the need to restore trust in our elections,’” according to the complaint.

The suit cites Whatley’s March 2022 speech to Hoke County Republicans. “Mr. Whatley recognized that ‘there are two key components to election integrity that you just have to have — 90 percent of election integrity comes down to having machines that do not and cannot connect with the internet, that have a paper ballot so that you can go back and do audits, and are made in the USA, and you have to have the Republican attorneys and observers in the room.’”

“The Convention is where top party officials are supposed to be elected,” the complaint continued. “The Party previously established rules and guardrails for voting at the Convention. The NCGOP violated those rules, launching a mobile phone application which allowed votes to be cast from outside the Convention floor in the contested Chair election.”

“The Chair election and the app failed both of Mr. Whatley’s ‘key components for election integrity’ — the Party conducted the vote over the Internet and failed to use paper ballots making an audit impossible,” the lawsuit argued. “The Chair election votes, to use Mr. Whatley’s words, were neither ‘legal’ in that they didn’t comply with the Party’s own voting rules, nor were they ‘counted correctly.’”

“To make matters even worse, the Party improperly adjourned without holding an election for Vice Chair, re-installing the incumbent for an additional two-year term. Plaintiffs — loyal Republicans all — and others have asked for answers regarding what happened in Greensboro but have only been stonewalled.”

“Faced with no other choice, Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit to get the NCGOP to follow its own rules,” according to the complaint. “The record is clear — the Party repeatedly violated its own Plan of the Organization and Convention Rules during the 2023 Convention. … This case is not about substantive policy questions, but rather whether the Party met its election integrity commitments in its own operations.”

“With a presidential primary election less than one year away, ensuring the legitimacy of the NCGOP’s leadership is important not just to Plaintiffs or North Carolina Republicans, but all North Carolinians and even all Americans,” the GOP plaintiffs argued. “The Party Chair has a significant role to play in the primary, as the person responsible for submitting candidate lists and receiving vote certifications.”

“It is in everyone’s interest, including the NCGOP’s, to address what happened in Greensboro at the 2023 Convention,” the complaint continued. “A new leadership election, which the NCGOP’s Plan of Organization contemplates, is the only path forward.”

Carolina Journal reported Whatley’s emphasis on party unity after the June election.

“I think that the Republican Party is unified,” he said. “There’s a reason that President Trump, Vice President Pence and Ron DeSantis came to the convention.”

Whatley also emphasized the importance of North Carolina in the 2024 election.

“Strategically and politically, North Carolina really, really matters,” he said. “It matters in both the general and in the primary. We’re a Super Tuesday battleground state.”