Cooper sues the state legislature again

The governor, a Democrat, filed the third lawsuit of his six-month-old tenure against the Republican-led General Assembly

Aaron P. Bernstein—Reuters
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper speaks at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington

RALEIGH — On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper filed another lawsuit against state legislators. Cooper is trying again to sue the lawmakers over a law to shrink the size of the Court of Appeals by attrition and the appointment process of certain boards. The suit says that the legislature’s measure is a violation of the separation of powers in the state constitution. “[The] General Assembly’s appetite for reducing the authority exercised by the governor and interfering with the constitutional duties of the executive did not diminish with the governor’s swearing in on Jan. 1, 2017,” states the lawsuit. “Since the beginning of its regular session on Jan. 11, the General Assembly has introduced a long series of bills aimed at diminishing the governor’s and the courts’ constitutional authority and taking that authority for itself.”This is the third time Cooper, a lawyer and former N.C. attorney general, has sued legislators since taking office just short of six months ago. In this suit, Cooper again opposes measures passed by the General Assembly, led by Republicans with a veto-proof majority, saying they passed the change to gubernatorial appointments “disregarding … constitutional principles, just weeks after the voters chose Gov. Cooper’s ‘platform, policies, and ideology’ to govern North Carolina for the next four years.” Legislative leadership responded to the suit Friday saying this was another lawsuit paid for by the N.C. taxpayers to benefit the governor’s political interests.”In his State of the State Address, Gov. Roy Cooper said, ‘In Raleigh, partisan battles, power struggles and lawsuits might grab the headlines, but we have to work together where we can,'” said Shelly Carver, a spokesperson for Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “‘To look beyond ourselves to see what’s right for the state, regardless of who’s in power’ — so we don’t understand why he feels suing three times in less than six months is a good way to accomplish that goal. This latest lawsuit will benefit no North Carolinian besides Roy Cooper himself, and we wish he would heed his own advice rather than filing endless lawsuits bankrolled by the taxpayers to elevate his own political power.” Cooper’s suit cites as precedent the case of McCrory v. Berger, in which then-Gov. Pat McCrory sued lawmakers, winning a judgment that the legislature had gone too far in restricting the governor’s ability, via appointment and oversight powers, to control members of the Coal Ash Commission. The commission was tasked with determining the best course of action following a coal ash spill into the Dan River from a Duke Energy power plant in 2014.The state Supreme Court wrote in the decision that similar controversies must be treated on a case-by-case basis, so Cooper’s lawsuit asks the court to extend the reasoning to six other commissions including the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Child Care Commission, the State Building Commission, the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Authority, the Rural Infrastructure Authority, and the Private Protective Services Board.The suit also opposes a measure that allowed McCrory to appoint Yolanda Stith, former executive director of the Association of Long Term Care Facilities, a former insurance underwriter, and wife of his chief of staff, to a seat on the state Industrial Commission for “a term of six years plus the remainder of the unexpired term,” rather than the standard remainder of an unexpired term. The Industrial Commission is a paid position on a board that hears workers compensation claims and administers death benefits and compensation plans for the state’s fire and law enforcement officers. While the lawsuits continue, the state budget is expected to be the next showdown between the governor and the legislature as the state House has been working this week on its version of a state spending plan. Both legislative chambers agreed to increase state spending by 2.5 percent, while the governor wants to increase spending by 5.1 percent. The House is expected to pass its budget bill next week, so the two chambers can reach a final budget agreement and send it to the governor well before June 30, the end of the fiscal year.