RALEIGH – The General Assembly rounded out it’s second special session of the year on Monday by approving new language for the second of two amendments deemed ‘misleading’ by the courts. The first revision passed Friday was to the Bipartisan Board of Elections amendment, eliminating language (and implications) specifically addressed by the court and Democrats. Still, Gov. Roy Cooper and Democrats stubbornly stuck to their partisan talking points.
The second amendment proposal getting the clarification treatment deals with judicial vacancies. Specifically, who is entrusted with the authority to appoint replacements when a judge dies, retires, or leaves office for some other reason. Currently, the governor, and the governor alone,makes that appointment.
If passed by voters the amendment would transfer that authority to the legislature.
Originally, though, the language included some lines that led many to believe it would also enable the legislature to shield bills from vetoes as long as they contained judicial appointments within them. Importantly, Republicans contested that interpretation strongly, saying it did nothing of the sort and such a tactic would never survive judicial review even if they had intended to do it.
More importantly, in the new version Republicans changed the language anyway in order to satisfy the court order and placate the Democrats crying foul.
Cooper and the Democrats are still crowing about the language even though it specifically addresses what they said their concerns were in the lawsuit that forced the revisions. So what are they so upset about? Simply put, it chips away at some of the governor’s unilateral power to make judicial appointments, and thus damages his power of patronage.
It is not nearly as sinister as Democrats are making it out to be, as the commission created to appoint judges to fill vacancies is literally made up of members appointed by multiple bodies, including the governor himself. Not one of the bodies nominating members to this commission – the General Assembly, the governor, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – will have a majority on the commission.
The commission will select and present nominees to the governor, and he will then chose an appointment from those nominees. If he doesn’t make the appointment within 10 days, the legislature can then vote on an appointment with a majority.
A sinister attack on the separation of powers? Not even close. Misleading? Hardly.
But Cooper is in full rage mode as he stirs up the partisan angst heading into elections.
On his Facebook page he fear mongered, “The people deserve a truthful ballot. These amendments remain dishonest and dangerous like the old ones that the court ruled unconstitutional.”
And in a campaign fundraising email he entered full hysterics, claiming, “will seemingly stop at nothing to tear down North Carolina’s separation of powers and the checks and balances we count on for our democracy.”
So what is Cooper going to do? You guessed it, Cooper plans to sue all over again.
“Yes, you can expect further legal action,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in response to a News & Observer question about a potential lawsuit. “Less than a week before ballots are to be printed, rather than repeal their old misleading amendments, Republicans have passed more misleading amendments to erode checks and balances in our state’s constitution.”
That would appear a hard sell to judges who should recognize that the legislature fixed exactly what they found fault with in the original language.
Plus, how hypocritical is Cooper to blast Republicans as wrong for passing cleaned up amendments a week before ballot printing, while he is literally promising another lawsuit that will extend the uncertainty under the exact same time pressures?