The North Carolina General Assembly’s Republican leadership has come under fire in recent weeks as a result of several proposed amendments to the state’s constitution that, as of right now, will appear on November’s general election ballot.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has sued the state’s legislative leaders over two of those amendments that would limit his power when it comes to judicial and board appointments. The North Carolina branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Clean Air Carolina, an environmental activist organization based in Charlotte, have also filed lawsuits regarding those two proposed amendments, as well as two others that would require voters to present photo identification and cap state income tax rate at 7 percent.
Cooper is arguing that the proposed amendments were written in a way that was intended to mislead voters, while the NAACP and Clean Air Carolina has said that legislators elected in districts deemed to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders by a federal court don’t have the power to propose changes to the state’s constitution. A three-judge panel will hear both arguments starting today.
On Monday, each of the five living former North Carolina governors -- including two Republicans -- gathered in Raleigh to condemn the two proposed amendments that would limit Cooper’s power. The group congregated at the old Capitol in downtown Raleigh to warn voters about the potential drawbacks to passing such amendments.
Republican Pat McCrory, Cooper’s predecessor, directed particularly stern words toward the legislature’s Republican leadership in a tweet that followed yesterday’s event.
“My advice to legislators … If any of you want to take on the responsibilities of the governor, then have the courage to run for governor, and win,” McCrory said. “Earn it. Do not hijack these duties through the two deceitful and misleading amendments that attempt to fool our great citizens.”
In addition to the state’s legislative leaders, Cooper is also suing the state board of elections, but North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein -- a Democrat representing the elections board in the lawsuit -- has sided with Cooper’s assertion that the legislature had “adopted false and misleading ballot language” related to the proposed amendments. Stein has been openly critical of the proposed amendments, calling one “the most radical restructuring of our government in more than 100 years.”
The first proposed amendment that has drawn Cooper’s ire would set up a commission to review judicial nominations after a seat is vacated. The commission would evaluate the nominations and then present recommendations to the General Assembly, which would then select a minimum of two names that would be submitted for the governor to choose from. Currently, the governor has the authority to fill judicial vacancies as they see fit.
The second would change the way that the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is appointed, cutting the governor out of the process entirely. The amendment advocates for an eight-member board, with the minority and majority leaders in the state House and Senate appointing four members each.
A third, unrelated lawsuit filed against the legislature that also pertains to November’s ballot was decided on Monday when a judge ruled in favor of Chris Anglin, a Republican candidate for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Democrat Rebecca Edwards, who is campaigning to become a district court judge in Wake County. The two judicial candidates were challenging a new law passed by the legislature earlier this summer that prevented the two of them from having their party affiliations listed on the ballot.
Last month, the legislature passed a law removing the political affiliation of judicial candidates from the ballot if their status had changed within 90 days of their filing for office. The move appeared aimed at Anglin, a Raleigh attorney, who was a registered Democrat up until June. The North Carolina Republican Party has distanced itself from Anglin, fearing his last-minute filing was a ploy to split the Republican vote and open the door for a Democratic challenger to unseat incumbent Republican Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson.
On Monday, Wake County Superior Court Judge Becky Holt ruled that the legislature violated the constitutional rights of both judicial candidates by passing the law after the filing period for judicial races had already ended. The legislature’s Republican leadership can appeal the ruling, but it’s unclear at this time if they plan to do so.
Lincoln County state Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, did not respond to a request for comment prior to Tuesday’s publication deadline.