RALEIGH – Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican who will face off against Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper this fall, held a press conference on Monday morning at the General Assembly legislative building to give more details on the purpose of the lawsuit.
“This week, in my capacity as Lt. Gov. and a member of the Council of State, I am filing a lawsuit against Gov. Roy Cooper challenging the executive orders related to Covid-19 and the process by which they were implemented. This is the only option left on the table as all others have been exhausted” said Forest during his opening remarks.
Forest stated multiple times during his remarks that the lawsuit was not challenging the substance of the orders, only the process used to implement them.
“This lawsuit is not interested in the substance of Gov. Cooper’s orders,” Forest said. “It specifically addresses his lack of authority under the Emergency Management Act to shut down North Carolina without the concurrence of the Council of State.”
In March, Forest raised a similar issue when, according to emails from the Lt. Gov.’s office and offices of other Council of State members, Gov. Cooper’s legal counsel asked for concurrence after announcing that the closure of restaurants and bars would take place within a few hours. Forest said the Council of State was voting via emails as Cooper made the announcement in front of media.
“In times of crisis, the rule of law is more important than ever. We must do the right thing, in the right way. No one, governor or citizen, is above the rule of law” Forest said.
Since the implementation of Cooper’s initial restaurant ban, Forest said both Gov. Cooper and N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen asserted that they have statutory authority for executive orders regarding the state response to the pandemic.
Forest contended that one person or health official is not allowed to shut down an entire economy, citing how little time restaurant and bar owners had to prepare for their businesses to be shut down.
On multiple occasions, Forest said, he has asked for the science and data being used by the Cooper administration and has not received any response or additional information. This includes data North State Journal has asked NCDHHS for, such as COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 breakdowns of hospital bed use.
“When you are claiming that you’re following the science and data, the more data you have represented in different ways is better,” said Forest of the administration’s data transparency issues. “We know who this virus impacts the most and focus on those communities like nursing homes, but still don’t have full testing in every nursing home, which is what the Vice President suggested over six weeks ago.”
Forest also talked about focusing on the problems where they are located, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach currently being used. Forest said that he wants Cooper to report whether ICU beds, for instance, are being used for COVID-19 patients or for other surgeries or uses.
Another point Forest made was the need for additional testing and focus on the Hispanic community in the state, which Forest said is being hit hard.
“I have 30 points of data that we haven’t been able to find or receive along the way. North Carolina is the only state in the country that doesn’t have their death certificates available,” said Forest.
Forest said the state should be shifting away from a focus on fear to a campaign of hope and noted that North Carolina’s hospitalizations are stable and the death rate is decreasing. He said providing more complete, comprehensive data could relieve some of the fear people have about the virus.
Forest briefly touched on schools, citing the governor is expected to soon announce when students will return to schools. Forest said that he was the only member on the State Board of Education to vote against all three plans that were presented because he said no one could identify a goal of the plan or when those goals would be achieved.
When asked why he was filing this lawsuit now instead of back in March, Forest said he felt there was no other option after trying multiple channels. Forest and five other members of the Council of State sent a letter to Cooper asking for him to call a Council of State meeting previously, but their specific asks regarding data was fulfilled by Cooper.
Forest also said the Council of State was waiting on legislation from the General Assembly, but that legislation did not happen until this past week. Senate Bill 105, which passed late in the final day of the session last week, would require the concurrence of a majority of the Council of State during a statewide declared emergency. That bill now sits on Cooper’s desk awaiting action.
“There’s nothing politically expedient about suing the governor – but it is important to do things the right way,” said Forest. “I am asking the court to invalidate Gov. Cooper’s unlawful executive orders that continue to shut down parts of our economy until he receives the concurrence of a majority of the Council of State as required by law.”
Forest confirmed that the lawsuit will be filed in Wake County Superior Court this week.