North Carolina’s new Democratic governor and the entrenched Republican-led legislature battled in court on two fronts Friday over efforts to restrict the chief executive’s ability to alter the state’s recent conservative direction. A panel of three state trial court judges spent three hours listening to arguments over whether to continue blocking a law requiring Senate confirmation of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Cabinet secretaries. The judges did not say when they would decide whether to continue blocking the law. Any order would be in effect until after a full hearing next month. Meanwhile, a revamped state elections board met for the first time Friday, hours after an appeals court temporarily reinstated a law stripping Cooper of his oversight of elections. Cooper’s attorneys are asking the state Supreme Court to step in and again block that law. The General Assembly passed the law requiring Senate consent to Cooper’s top appointees in December. It came in a surprise special session barely a week after Republican incumbent Pat McCrory conceded to Cooper in their close gubernatorial race and just before the Democrat took office.
The state Constitution gives senators “advice and consent” powers with gubernatorial appointees. But a state Supreme Court ruling last year set boundaries on how far lawmakers can shape the governor’s ability to carrying out laws through appointees. No governor in living memory has had to have his top aides approved by the Senate.
Cooper’s attorney Jim Phillips told the judges that voters picked Cooper in last year’s election and supported the proposals he outlined. But the appointments law gives legislators effective veto power over the top aides the governor chooses to run day-to-day government. “Needless to say, he can’t do that by himself,” Phillips said. “For the governor to be required to mollify the General Assembly, to satisfy them with his appointees, the people that he is going to put the most trust and confidence in, is at the heart of the separation of powers. It goes too far.”