North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the Republicans who control the General Assembly have had a rough first year. One of their areas of contention is over the governor’s appointment power. With a supermajority in the legislature, Republicans have little fear that Gov. Cooper’s vetoes of legislation to curtail his power to make appointments will stick. The governor has had some success in court in fighting back against these legislative moves, but a recent court decision was a setback for him.
Legislators and the governor both agree that appointments to various state boards and commissions is very important. However, they disagree on who should make appointments to these positions. Late last year, legislators removed some judicial appointment power from the incoming governor. Here are some of the bills considered by the legislature this year that continue with this theme:
House Bill 335, Modify governor appointments for court vacancies: Passed 70 to 48 in the House
To change how the governor makes appointments to fill vacancies on the state Supreme Court, court of appeals, superior court, or district attorney. For any such vacancy, the bill would have the governor choose from a list of three candidates recommended by the political party to which the justice, judge, or district attorney vacating office was affiliated. Under current law the governor simply appoints a replacement.
House Bill 659, Modify governor appointments for U.S. Senate vacancies: Passed 76 to 41 in the House
To change how the governor makes a temporary appointment to fill a vacant seat to the U.S. Senate. The bill would have the governor choose from a list of three candidates recommended by officials of the political party to which the U.S. Senator vacating office was affiliated. Under current law the governor simply appoints a temporary replacement from the same political party as the vacating Senator.
House Bill 240, Eliminate governor appointments to fill district court vacancies: Passed 66 to 47 in the House
To transfer to the legislature the governor's authority to appoint the replacement judge to fill out an unexpired term when a district court vacancy occurs.
House Bill 241, Eliminate governor appointments of special superior court judges: Passed 67 to 47 in the House
To transfer to the legislature the governor's authority to appoint a special superior court judge when a vacancy occurs or the incumbent judge's term ends.
Senate Bill 68, Create new bipartisan elections and ethics board: Passed 49 to 0 in the Senate and 68 to 42 in the House
To merge the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission into a new "Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement," which would have four Democrat members and four Republican members. The governor would appoint members from lists of nominees given him by the state party chairs.
The governor vetoed SB 68, but legislators overrode his veto. Then he sued, contending the bill was an unconstitutional violation of his power to make appointments for the executive branch. In October, the North Carolina Superior Court said that it did not have jurisdiction over the lawsuit since the makeup of state boards and commissions is a matter for legislators and the governor, not judges, to settle. However, the court did say that if it were to rule on the suit, then it would likely rule against the governor. The state Supreme Court now has the power to decide the case if it wishes.
There is history in North Carolina of legislators stripping appointment power from governors of opposing parties, with Democrats doing making similar moves when they controlled the legislature. There is also no standard for how these appointments should be made. Appointment power differs state-to-state, with governors playing a larger role in some states than in others. However, some observers are expressing concern at the scope of the legislature’s action in North Carolina. They charge that this is pure partisan politics, with Republicans looking to weaken the Democratic governor. Some take the opposite view, however, contending that this is merely the legislature introducing more checks-and-balances to the appointment process.
Do you support the legislative action to remove some of Governor Cooper’s appointment power? Or are Republicans playing hardball politics in stripping power from the Democratic governor?