Gov. Roy Cooper sues to overturn Rules Review Commission makeup

Gov. Roy Cooper answers a question during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C. Photo via NC Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said today that Gov. Cooper has filed a lawsuit in lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of the membership of the Rules Review Commission (RRC). Cooper and his attorneys say the current membership is a violation of the N.C. Constitution’s Separation-of-Powers clause.

The RRC is an executive agency created by the General Assembly in 1986 and is charged with reviewing and approving rules adopted by state agencies. The statutory authority for the RRC is found in two places. The authority for the RRC itself is G.S. 143B-30.1. The Commission’s substantive review procedures are set by the General Assembly and are codified in the Administrative Procedure Act, Chapter 150B, Articles 1 and 2A.

Gov. Cooper’s office claims that since the members are appointed by the General Assembly it gives an unconstitutional veto authority over rules and regulations issued by the executive branch.

The governor disagreed with decisions by the RRC in matters relating to recent changes proposed by the N.C. Department of Public Safety and N.C. Department of Health & Human Services, saying the RRC rejected proposed rules on policy.

According to the RRC, however, if they object to a rule, then the offending agency must respond and either attempt to satisfy the RRC’s objection by rewriting the rule or inform the RRC that it will not change the rule and ask for it to be returned.

Gov. Cooper seeks to overturn the membership of the RRC and appoint a majority of its members. Current members include, Jeanette Doran, the president of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, and former state Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County.

According to the press release from Gov. Cooper’s office, they say the current makeup of the RRC “allows the legislature to interfere with and undermine the executive branch’s authority to establish policy through rulemaking.” 

Earlier this year, the RRC objected to temporary rules proposed by N.C. Board of Elections executive director Karen Brinson Bell that would have granted her unilateral authority to change numerous election-related laws. The RRC unanimously objected to those changes.

At the time, state Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) called the move a backdoor attempt to rewrite election laws, saying, “Empowering one person who was appointed by a partisan board controlled by Gov. Cooper to rewrite our state’s elections laws months before a presidential election is improper and would undermine public confidence in our elections system.”