Judges Smack Down Multiple Cooper Lawsuits

RALEIGH – The Democratic governor Roy Cooper had barely been sworn into office when he had lawyers start a litigation offensive against the Republican majorities on Jones Street. For the last year it seemed as if every week Cooper was filing another lawsuit in an attempt to stifle Republicans ability to exercise constitutional legislative powers.

Well a few of those suits have just been smacked down by judges that recognized the ridiculous nature of the complaints when viewed through the lens of the state constitution.

“Superior Court judges issued two rulings on Monday bolstering lawmakers’ contentions that they have the ultimate control of state purse strings in North Carolina, including the allocation of millions of dollars set to roll into the state from a settlement with Volkswagen.

Judges also ruled that lawmakers can expand the program of Opportunity Scholarships, or school vouchers, even if the governor does not include such a request in his recommended budget. And they ruled the General Assembly can reduce the size of the state Court of Appeals, as was done in 2017 shortly before a Republican on the 15-member bench reached mandatory retirement age.

Appropriating public funds is such an important responsibility that our constitution gives that authority to 170 of the people’s elected representatives — not to one single politician, whose job is to execute the law rather than attempt to make his own,” Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, and House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said in a joint statement. “We are pleased the court stopped some of Gov. Cooper’s latest attempted power grabs and urge him to abandon these self-serving lawsuits.””

Cooper wanting to have sole control over big pots of money? Why does that sound familiar?

The Volkswagen funds come from a settlement reached as a result of the global emissions rigging scandal, paid to the feds and distributed to the states. The court ruled that money, $183 million in North Carolina’s case, should go to the state treasury to be appropriated by the General Assembly. Cooper and his attorneys argued he should have control over the funds as if they were federal grants.

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What is it about the legislature’s authority over taxing and spending that the governor doesn’t understand? His attempts to subvert the constitution so that he can concentrate power for his political purposes is pervasive.

Similarly, with the Opportunity Scholarships, Cooper’s attorneys contended that the legislature should not be allowed to appropriate funds for such scholarships because he excluded them from his budget recommendations. Seriously.

Cooper apparently thinks his budget recommendations are budget mandates, ignoring the fact that the only body with discretion over appropriations is the General Assembly. That’s why they are termed mere ‘recommendations’ after all. Constitutionally, the legislature can stick them in a trash can if they so desire.

“Lawmakers ordered the budget director to increase the governor’s spending recommendations for vouchers by $10 million a year over the next decade — public money set aside for families who send their children to private schools. The lawmakers directed the budget director to include the money in future budget proposals so the program, which Cooper does not support, can be built to $134.8 million a year.

In North Carolina, a state where the General Assembly holds great power, the governor recommends but does not dictate what goes in the state spending plan. Cooper’s attorneys argued that lawmakers do not have the authority to dictate what a governor includes in a budget proposal. But attorneys for lawmakers countered that the governor should be bound by what lawmakers have adopted in the past.”

Excuse me, but the legislative branch of government holds great power because that’s how the constitution (state and federal) was designed. The greatest powers rest with the most representative branch of government. This isn’t some new twist in which Republicans have expanded their power of the purse; it’s been that way for more than two centuries.

Cooper also lost in the matter of the legislature’s authority to reduce the number of judges on the Court of Appeals, from 15 to 12.  Cooper had whined that by reducing the court he wouldn’t get his chance to appoint upcoming vacancies, as if his political patronage trumped the authority of the legislature to pass laws reforming state institutions.

While legislative leadership is happy about this result, rest assured that the Cooper administration is appealing the decision. As Cooper said previously, he feels much better about his chances if the case goes to the N.C. Supreme Court, where Democrats hold the majority and therefore are more likely to hand him a partisan judgement in his favor.

 

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