Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper swooped in Monday to put his stamp on a state appeals court that’s become a new flashpoint with the Republican-dominated General Assembly, appointing a replacement judge 15 minutes after a Republican jurist resigned.
Cooper’s office announced that Court of Appeals Judge Douglas McCullough resigned Monday morning and the governor would fill the vacancy with former appeals court judge John Arrowood.
Former Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, appointed Arrowood to a seat on the Court of Appeals in 2007. Arrowood, who is openly gay, was backed by state Democratic Party officials when he ran unsuccessfully for election to the seat the following year. The state Democratic Party on Monday cheered the Arrowood pick.
McCullough was due to leave the court next month when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. The only explanation offered in McCullough’s resignation letter was that he felt it was “appropriate” to retire now rather than wait another 36 days.
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McCullough had a previous eight-year stint on the Court of Appeals, but before and after that he spent a total of about six years working at the law firm co-founded by former Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s deceased first husband.
Cooper’s surprise sequence of moves comes three days after he vetoed legislation that would have decreased the appeals court from 15 judges to 12 and blocked Cooper from appointing his own judicial picks as three Republicans reach retirement age.
Lawmakers this week were expected to override Cooper’s veto, making the court reduction law. Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate and final tallies for the court-reduction measure exceeded required constitutional thresholds.
The legislation’s GOP sponsors explained the need for reducing the Court of Appeals by pointing to data showing the court’s workload has fallen in recent years. The bill also would allow more cases to bypass the appeals court and go directly to the state Supreme Court.