Republican lawmakers blast temporary court order on confirmations

Cooper appointment stands up Senate confirmation committee that convened despite restraining order

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal

RALEIGH — A temporary restraining order announced by a Superior Court panel Wednesday blocks a law passed in late 2017 that codifies the N.C. Senate’s role in confirming the governor’s cabinet appointments. The news elicited strong reactions from Republican leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly who called the derided the three judges for legislating from the bench.”In a gross misreading of the Constitution and a blatant overstep of their Constitutional authority, three Superior Court judges attempted to dictate to the legislature when it could or could not hold committee meetings and what it could or could not consider in those meetings,” stated the letter from lawmakers. “This unprecedented move would be like the legislature telling a judge what jurors to pick to decide a case. 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. Their decision to legislate from the bench will have profound consequences, and they should immediately reconvene their panel and reverse their order.”At a hearing Tuesday, the judges heard Cooper attorneys argued that the confirmation process equated to essential veto powers of the governor’s cabinet choices, while lawyers for Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger argued that the authority to provide advice and consent is specifically delegated in the state constitution and does not interfere with the governor’s ability to nominate, supervise, or control his appointments.A senate committee meeting to consider former Democratic lawmaker Larry Hall as Secretary of the N.C. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs convened as scheduled on Wednesday, nonetheless, but ended abruptly when it became clear the guest of honor would not attend. Given the court ruling, Cooper’s publicly announced appointments will likely decline the legislature’s invitation until the suit is settled for good.A final ruling is expected from the court Friday.Co-chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Insurance Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Fayetteville) was defiant as he assured the General Assembly would have their say on appointments eventually.”The purpose of today’s meeting is to implement a transparent and fair process to determine whether Gov. Cooper’s proposed cabinet secretaries are capable, qualified, without conflicts of interest, and willing to follow the laws of our state and nation,” said Meredith. “This process is about good government, and North Carolina’s constitution clearly provides — in black and white — for the Senate to undertake this duty.”The nearly identical federal process that is taking place in Washington D.C. even as we speak shows the public is paying attention, and we ought to do everything we can to give the people confidence that our state’s leaders will be accountable to them,” said Meredith. There is no question these nominees will wield a lot of power, control multi-billion dollar budgets and make decisions that affect millions of North Carolinians — but as of today, Gov. Cooper hasn’t even said how much the taxpayers are paying his nominees.”The attempt by three judges to stop today’s proceedings is unprecedented in state history. Never before has a judge told the representatives elected by the citizens that they cannot hold a committee meeting as allowed by the constitution. The Committee is here today and ready to proceed. However, we are going to delay this meeting because the Acting Secretary is not present. But make no mistake: the General Assembly will meet to review the qualifications of Gov. Cooper’s cabinet nominees as allowed by the constitution, and we are going to get answers to questions regarding their qualifications, potential conflicts of interest and willingness to obey the law.Adding, “Until then, this meeting is adjourned.”On Monday, Cooper sent a letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) reiterating his request that the Senate delay the hearings until the court issues a final decision in the case.Eight of 10 appointments have been sworn in to office and are on the job despite not being formally presented to the state Senate. Appointments for the N.C. Department of Revenue and the N.C. Department of Information Technology have not yet been made.Cooper argued in the letter that senatorial advice and consent only applies to constitutional officers, and not to cabinet secretaries. The letter also points to state law that does not require the governor submit the names of secretarial appointments until May 15 of this year.”Consistent with that,” the letter reads, “I understand that my lawyers and those representing you and Speaker [Tim] Moore have proposed to the court a schedule which would provide for a hearing and decision by the panel in early March of this year. The opportunity still exists to avoid needless confrontation and court proceedings over a scheduling issue. But with hearings set to begin on Wednesday, that window is rapidly closing.”However, Berger’s Deputy Chief of Staff Amy Auth issued a press statement Monday that said Cooper’s attempt to delay confirmations was “disingenuous.”Berger said the confirmation process was important to bring consultations with the governor’s appointments out from behind closed doors. A convening of the Senate Nominations Committee last week outlined the process for confirmation hearings as Republican leaders emphasized the hearings were not designed to be confrontational.”For years, cabinet secretaries have met behind closed doors to share their qualifications and address any concerns — like conflicts of interest — legislators may have,” said Berger. “It is extremely disturbing that Roy Cooper is demanding the state courts keep these meetings hidden behind closed doors and out of the public eye.”