North Carolina Judge Delays Implementing Republican Actions that Curb Power of New Democratic Governor

Saturday, December 31, 2016
Judge Donald Stephens (photo: GRNC.org)

 

By Alan Blinder, New York Times

 

In a second courtroom setback in two days for Republican leaders in North Carolina, a judge on Friday temporarily blocked a state elections board overhaul that had been condemned as a partisan diminishing of executive power.

 

The abolition of the existing State Board of Elections was to take effect Sunday, less than three weeks after the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a proposal to merge the panel with the State Ethics Commission and, ultimately, reduce the authority of Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

 

“It certainly is not going to harm the state or the agency or any agency to delay that termination for 10 days so that we can have a hearing, a more complete hearing on the legal issues, the constitutional issues,” said Judge Donald W. Stephens of Wake County Superior Court, where Cooper filed a lawsuit Friday.

 

The judge, who announced his decision to grant a temporary restraining order at the end of a Friday afternoon hearing, is scheduled to hear more arguments about the disputed law Thursday. But his ultimate role in the case, which Cooper’s lawyers say is rooted in the principle of separation of powers, will be limited: Under North Carolina law, three-judge panels hear and decide constitutional challenges to state statutes.

 

The law that Stephens agreed to hold in abeyance amounts to a sweeping redesign of the panel that administers and regulates elections in a state that has been steeping in political conflict.

 

That panel had five members and was enmeshed in the controversy surrounding Cooper’s narrow victory over Gov. Pat McCrory. The legislation calls for the new version to include eight members, divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans. In addition to elections, the new panel, the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, would regulate official conduct and lobbying.

 

Republicans argued that their proposal was about ensuring electoral fairness, but Democrats said it plainly smelled of a power grab. Before the measure became law, governors were allowed to appoint a simple majority in their party’s favor.

 

Democrats have been vigorous in their complaints about Republican legislation curbing Cooper’s authority, and the measures that they approved during a hastily called special session will almost certainly be litigated for months.

 

To Learn More:

Powers of New N. Carolina Governor Slashed by Republican Legislature Before He Takes Office (by Richard Fausset and Trip Gabriel, New York Times)

Most Contentious Governor’s Race in Nation Expected in North Carolina as Battle over LGBT Law Heats Up (by Gary D. Robertson and Jonathan Drew, Associated Press)

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