Split Court Hands Cooper Court Victory

RALEIGH – Yet another judicial panel opinion on the tug-o-war between the Republican General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper and another split decision to Cooper’s political benefit.

The Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has been touched up quite a bit over the last two years as back and forth court decisions and legislative adjustments resulted in the current 9 member board of elections. Four Republicans; four Democrats; one “Unaffiliated”. And now that has been deemed unconstitutional by two of the judges on the panel.

It is worth noting that the dissenting judge felt the entire issue is a political question that the courts have no role in addressing. It should be addressed politically, like elections, perhaps. (Or a constitutional amendment?) This is the kind of “independent judiciary” the Democrats like; one that hands them political victories and campaign ammunition.

“The General Assembly’s Republican majority can appeal the decision, though North Carolina voters could render the issue moot if they approve a GOP-backed amendment to the state constitution this November that would put lawmakers in charge of naming members to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

Superior Court Judges Todd Burke and Jesse Caldwell joined together to declare unconstitutional a series of changes lawmakers implemented in March. Judge Jeff Foster dissented, saying he felt the questions at issue were political ones that should be left up to the legislative process, not the courts.” 

The 2-1 majority found:

  • That it’s unconstitutional to require that the chairs of state and local election boards must be from the political party with the second most registered voters – currently the Republican Party – in years with presidential and gubernatorial elections as the law does now.
  • That the way the legislature appointed the state board’s executive director, and forbade the governor from removing her until at least 2019, was unconstitutional. The director is Kim Westbrook Strach, who has been in the position since former Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. Her husband is a lead attorney for Republican legislators in a series of redistricting lawsuits.
  • That the governor wasn’t left enough power to remove state board members.

The legislature will appeal the decision and the saga will continue.

The opinion of the court demands the board be dissolved and reconstituted, but not until after November elections. In the mean time, the Democrat will amplify the victory as much as possible to stoke anti-Republican sentiment. And perfect timing; early voting starts today. The issue resonates with the overall narrative and particularly with the amendments debate, which features a couple legislative/gubernatorial power struggles.

Read more about the long fought battle over the elections board here.

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