Court dismisses Cooper Election Board lawsuit

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Governor Roy Cooper addresses the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners during their County Assembly Day on Wednesday

RALEIGH — A three-judge panel has dismissed Gov. Roy Cooper’s lawsuit challenging the Republican-led merger of the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission.On Thursday, Judges Jesse B. Caldwell III, L. Todd Burke, and Jeffery B. Foster unanimously sided against Cooper’s claims that the law creating one super board was an unconstitutional power grab by Republicans.”Today the three-judge panel swiftly rejected Roy Cooper’s latest attempt to drag his political battles into the courtroom — and instead delivered a victory to North Carolina voters, who should now expect their elections and ethics laws to be enforced fairly and with bipartisan cooperation,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) in a joint statement sent out on Thursday evening. “We encourage the governor to accept this result and abandon his taxpayer-funded pursuit of total control of the board responsible for regulating his own ethics and campaign finance conduct.”In late December, lawmakers passed legislation to merge the two boards into one 8-member bipartisan board. With caveats, the law gave the governor sole power to appoint all eight members: seeing that four are from the Republican Party and four are from the Democratic Party, and that appointees only be chosen from lists of six nominees submitted by state party chairmen.Prior to the change, the governor appointed all five members of the State Board of Elections, with no more than a 3-member political party majority. The State Ethics Commission consisted of eight members: four governor appointees and four General Assembly appointees. The Thursday dismissal comes after a different three-judge panel ruled in January for the law to remain on hold until further arguments. Cooper, who believed the law violated separation of powers, had praised the January decision, while Berger and Moore challenged that Cooper “should explain why he opposes bipartisan oversight of elections and ethics laws.”In court documents that helped sway the panel in their favor, lawmakers employed that Cooper’s “novel arguments of unconstitutionality should not mislead this Court to believe that certain gubernatorial powers are enshrined in the Constitution when, in fact, those powers have been created and authorized by statute only.”The merger of the two boards is one of several post-election changes that Cooper has challenged the GOP on in court. However, Republican lawmakers have also butted heads with their own party on separation of powers disputes. McCrory v. Berger pitted the General Assembly against former Gov. Pat McCrory, and eventually dissolved legislators’ attempt to have an independent commission manage coal ash and the subsequent fines on Duke Energy.Cooper has not released a statement on the Thursday ruling, but could appeal the decision which would elevate the case up to the N.C. Supreme Court.