A three-judge state court panel in North Carolina on Tuesday held up part of a new Republican-backed law that strips important power from the newly elected Democratic governor. The ruling, temporarily halting the requirement that the governor seek legislative approval for his cabinet selections, escalated the partisan tensions that have shaken up the state, and came shortly before a scheduled State Senate hearing on one of Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet picks. Mr. Cooper has called the law, which was signed in December in the waning days of his Republican predecessor’s tenure, a politically motivated power grab. “The court is absolutely correct in their decision and should not be intimidated by threats from legislative leaders,” Mr. Cooper said in a statement, in which he urged the state “to put these partisan confirmation games behind us.” Passed in the bitter aftermath of November’s election, the limits on Mr. Cooper’s power prompted protests outside the North Carolina Capitol, where Republicans hold majorities in both chambers.
The ruling by the panel of North Carolina Superior Court judges is limited to legislative oversight of Mr. Cooper’s cabinet selections. Lawmakers last year also approved 11th-hour changes limiting the governor’s influence with the State Board of Elections, changing the appeals process in the state courts and reducing the total number of executive appointees. Another judge has already paused the changes to the state elections board.
Legislative Republicans have defended the new rules as a legal, reasonable check on the governor’s power. In a joint statement, Phil Berger, the president pro tempore of the State Senate, and House Speaker Tim Moore called the temporary restraining order “a gross misreading of the Constitution and a blatant overstep” by the judges.
“This unprecedented move would be like the legislature telling a judge what jurors to pick to decide a case,” Mr. Berger and Mr. Moore said in their statement. “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.”
At the committee meeting where one of Mr. Cooper’s nominees had been scheduled to be reviewed on Wednesday, State Senator Wesley Meredith, a Republican, said the oversight of cabinet secretaries was “about good government.” He added that “we are going to get answers to questions regarding their qualifications, potential conflicts of interest and willingness to obey the law.”