North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed two Republican bills — one that tries again to shift authority for deciding who oversees state elections away from him and the other preventing Cooper from filling upcoming vacancies on an appeals court.
The vetoes, received Friday by the General Assembly, were anticipated and mark the latest flashpoint between the GOP-controlled legislature and Cooper since the former attorney general narrowly defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in November.
Veto overrides appear likely, perhaps next week. Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate and final tallies for both bills last week exceeded required constitutional thresholds. The legislature last month canceled Cooper’s first veto of a bill that made local trial court races officially partisan again.
The elections oversight bill creates a combined elections and ethics panel of eight members split between Democrats and Republicans and keeps local elections boards evenly divided as well. North Carolina law has given the sitting governor’s party a majority of elections board seats for more than a century.
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The other vetoed bill reduces the intermediate-level state Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12. It would deny Cooper an opportunity to appoint Democrats to fill the next three potential vacancies — all currently held by Republicans nearing the mandatory judicial retirement age.
The elections measure would take effect May 1. The first Court of Appeals vacancy is expected at the end of May.
Cooper blasted the measures Friday as unconstitutional and baldly partisan attempts by Republicans both to make it harder for people to register and vote and to keep the Court of Appeals in the GOP’s hold.
“Having three fewer judges will increase the court’s workload and delay timely appeals,” Cooper said in a release. “Just as bad is the real motivation of Republican legislators, which is to stack the court with judges of their own party.”
Legislative leaders left little room for resolution Friday, saying Cooper was the one focused on raw politics. They recalled a 17-year-old law passed when Cooper was Senate majority leader to expand the Court of Appeals from 12 to 15 judges and allow then-Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt to fill the appointments.
Cooper “is still fighting measures to increase bipartisan cooperation and undo his court packing scheme for no other reason than to preserve his own partisan advantage,” House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland Republican, and Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham Republican, said in a release. Overrides weren’t mentioned.
Republicans portrayed the elections measure as a fix to another law that reduced Cooper’s authority during a surprise legislative session in December, but got struck down last month by a three-judge panel. They also said it was a way to encourage bipartisanship in elections oversight. The latest version lets Cooper appoint all members of the combined elections and ethics board, although from lists provided by the major parties.
But Cooper said the partisan splits still would result in deadlocked votes on both state and county boards. A Republican would chair the board during years that presidential and gubernatorial elections are held. Democrats would lead the elections board for midterm elections.
“This is the same unconstitutional legislation in another package,” Cooper wrote, referring to past attempts by the state GOP “to make it harder for people to vote and have fair elections.” A 2013 state law requiring photo identification to vote and scaling back early voting was struck down by some federal judges.
As for the state Court of Appeals legislation, GOP sponsors pointed to data showing the court’s workload has fallen in recent years. The bill also would allow more matters to be appealed directly to the state Supreme Court.