The N.C. General Assembly’s attempt to revamp the state elections board and ethics commission weeks before Democrat Roy Cooper was sworn in as the new governor violates the state Constitution, a three-judge panel ruled on Friday. The judges also found unconstitutional the legislature’s shift of managerial and policy-making employees from former Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration to positions where it’s more difficult to replace them. But the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s attempt to have a say in who joins Cooper’s Cabinet was not found to be a violation of the separation of powers clause in the state Constitution. To date, the state Senate has approved three of the appointments Cooper has made with hearings for others set for next week. The rulings from Superior Court Judges Jesse Caldwell, Todd Burke and Jeff Foster come nearly two weeks after a daylong hearing inside a Campbell University law school courtroom.
“We’re pleased the trial court ruled two of these three laws unconstitutional, and we believe strongly that the Supreme Court ultimately will agree with us on all three,” Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Cooper, said in a prepared statement.
Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, said the senator’s office was reviewing the judges’ ruling to determine whether any appeals would be made. “It is encouraging the court recognized the plain language in our state’s constitution providing for a transparent confirmation process for unelected cabinet secretaries who control multi-billion dollar budgets and make decisions affecting millions of everyday North Carolinians,” Carver said in a statement, adding her disappointment over the rulings that went against the legislators.
The 42-page order is the latest in an escalating power struggle between the Democrat at the helm of the executive branch and the Republicans leading the two chambers of the General Assembly.