Judges halt NC GOP’s move to undercut governor

A panel of judges has sided with North Carolina’s new Democratic governor in a growing power struggle with the Republican-led state legislature.

In a brief ruling issued Wednesday, the three-judge panel of state judges placed on hold a law that would have required Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) nominees to head state Cabinet agencies to undergo confirmation hearings before the state legislature ahead of a planned hearing on Friday.

North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature passed the new law in December, after Cooper ousted his Republican predecessor Pat McCrory. Cooper sued to overturn the decision, which he said violated the state constitution. The panel of judges agreed.

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“We need to put these partisan confirmation games behind us and get on with repealing HB2, raising teacher pay and getting better jobs for North Carolinians,” Cooper said in a statement after the decision was released. “The court is absolutely correct in their decision and should not be intimidated by threats from legislative leaders.”

Republicans in Raleigh said the judges had overstepped their authority. State Senate President Phil Berger (R) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said the decision violated the separation of powers over a duly passed law.

“This unprecedented move would be like the legislature telling a judge what jurors to pick to decide a case,” Berger and Moore said in a joint statement. “Judges are not legislators, and if these three men want to make laws, they should hang up their robes and run for a legislative seat.”

The law requiring department heads to undergo confirmation hearings was one of a handful of measures Republicans passed in the weeks between McCrory’s concession and Cooper’s assuming office. A state judge had blocked another of those measures, which changed the way election boards are appointed, in December.

Cooper, the state’s former attorney general, and Berger, North Carolina’s most powerful Republican, have been at each other’s throats for years. Their relationship has only devolved since Cooper won the governor’s office amid lawsuits and a high-profile spat over the controversial 2016 law, HB2, superseding local nondiscrimination ordinances.

Cooper wants the Republican legislature to repeal HB2, which has led sporting events and major companies to pull business out of the state. Both sides blamed each other when a potential deal fell apart at the last minute last month.