North Carolina legislature attempting virtual coup of new Democratic governor

This kind of overruling of voters is unprecedented.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a forum in Charlotte, N.C., June 24, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a forum in Charlotte, N.C., June 24, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File

The Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature is not happy that voters last month chose a Democratic governor and a liberal majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court. And today, they could take advantage of an “emergency” legislative session to pass a series of bills that would minimize the impact of the voters’ choices by limiting the power of the other two branches of government.

The legislature has introduced bills to convert more than 1,000 state government positions from political appointments to civil service jobs. The new governor would have to rely on people hired by outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who was criticized for hiring environmental regulators who ignore the science of climate change and coal ash pollution.

Another bill would require the State Senate to confirm members of incoming Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) cabinet — a move that at least one legislator admitted was motivated by Cooper’s victory. The senate is heavily Republican, thanks to gerrymandering in 2011. A federal court recently ruled that the state legislature’s district boundaries discriminate against black voters and ordered a special election in 2017 to avoid “the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander.”

The legislature could also remove the governor’s authority to appoint a majority of the state Board of Elections, as well as the county Boards of Elections. These boards decide how long polls are open and the location of polling places — decisions that opened the door to voter suppression under some of Gov. McCrory’s boards.


Under the new proposal, the governor will not have control over the state Board of Elections, and it would instead have an equal number of members from both parties.

After a series of court rulings striking down voting laws as discriminatory, North Carolina Republicans were recently floating a scheme to pack the state supreme court with two new conservative justices to preserve the conservative majority. The GOP will have a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature next year. The courts would be the only check on its power.

But the latest bills would make it harder to challenge new laws at the North Carolina Supreme Court. These lawsuits would first have to go through an “en banc” panel of the court of appeals, which is controlled by Republican justices, unless the state supreme court certifies them for a direct appeal.

The legislature could also convert high court elections from nonpartisan to partisan races, which historically have seen more campaign cash. North Carolina would become the first state in nearly a century to make this change to its supreme court elections.


Billy Corriher is the Director of Research for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress, where his work focuses on courts and judicial elections.

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