From Asheville Citizen Times
RALEIGH, N.C. – Gov. Roy Cooper sued Republican legislative leaders again Friday over laws that he argues unconstitutionally erode his powers to appoint appeals court judges and members of board and commissions.
Extending the conflict between the GOP-dominated legislature and Cooper that began just before he took office Jan. 1, the new lawsuit says the challenged laws prevent Cooper from performing properly his gubernatorial duties.
Cooper already has sued over other laws approved just before he took office, with results mixed but mostly favoring him.
The latest challenged laws “fail to respect fundamental principles of representative government and the basic guarantees of the North Carolina Constitution,” Cooper attorney Jim Phillips wrote, requiring the governor to “protect the constitutional powers allocated to the executive and judicial branches of state government by the people.”
A spokeswoman for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, again a defendant in a Cooper lawsuit, said more litigation runs counter to public comments Cooper made this year about trying to work together. Cooper defeated GOP incumbent Pat McCrory last November by just 10,000 votes.
“So we don’t understand why he feels suing three times in less than six months is a good way to accomplish that goal,” spokeswoman Shelly Carver wrote in an email, adding “we wish he would heed his own advice rather than filing endless lawsuits bankrolled by the taxpayers to elevate his own political power.”
Friday’s lawsuit seeks to block enforcement of a law that reduces the number of Court of Appeals judges from 15 to 12 through attrition. GOP legislators, who overrode Cooper’s veto of the law in April, said the adjustment reflected a lower case load for the intermediate-level appeals court.
But it also prevents the governor, who fills judicial vacancies, from replacing the next three judges who resign, reach the mandatory retirement age or die in office. Phillips wrote that the state Constitution mandates eight-year terms for the Court of Appeals, even if the incumbent steps down.
Cooper also wants voided a law last December that gave the wife of McCrory’s chief of staff a nearly 8½-year term on the state’s Industrial Commission, a quasi-judicial panel that rules in workers’ compensation cases. Governors usually appoint commissioners to six-year terms, but the December law provided an “exclusive privilege” to McCrory appointee Yolanda Stith to serve through April 2025 in the post, which pays more than $125,000 annually, the lawsuit says.
The same piece of legislation changed the law so that, two days before leaving office, McCrory could pick the commission chairman and vice chairman to serve for essentially Cooper’s entire elected term. McCrory picked Charlton Allen as chairman and Stith as vice chairman. Previously the law had the two leaders serving at the sitting governor’s pleasure.
The lawsuit also wants thrown out laws setting memberships of six commissions — with responsibilities from allocating funds for clean water projects and parkland acquisition to setting child care licensing rules — because the governor doesn’t appoint the majority of members. Cooper cites a 2016 state Supreme Court decision siding with McCrory when he challenged the legislative control of three regulatory commissions.
Cooper first sued General Assembly leaders in December, ultimately challenging Republican laws shifting control over administering elections away from him, subjecting his Cabinet to Senate confirmation and giving civil service job protections to McCrory’s political appointees.
The elections administration and civil service provisions were struck down by a three-judge panel, but the confirmation mandate has been upheld so far. Cooper filed another lawsuit in April when the General Assembly passed an updated version of the election administration changes. The three-judge panel temporary blocked that law from taking effect and has scheduled a hearing in the case for next week.
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