A Senate committee meeting was postponed Wednesday morning after a court order restraining the Senate from holding hearings to confirm Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet nominees.
Larry Hall, the former Democratic N.C. House member tapped by Cooper to head the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, did not attend the meeting, which was ended after a short, curt statement condemning the Superior Court order.
“The attempt by three judges to stop today’s proceedings is unprecedented in state history,” said Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland), chairman of the committee. “Never before has a judge told the representatives elected by the citizens that they cannot hold a committee meeting as allowed by the constitution.”
Meredith vowed that the hearings would proceed.
“Make no mistake,” Meredith said. “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.”
At issue is a new system for vetting gubernatorial appointments put in place late last year after Cooper, a Democrat, defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in November’s election. The Republican majority in the General Assembly held a special legislative session wherein they stripped Cooper of many of the powers and prerogatives McCrory had enjoyed – including the ability to appoint cabinet members without approval by the Senate.
GOP legislators say the power to review Cooper’s cabinet nominations comes from the state constitution – it just hasn’t been used previously and they declined to use it under McCrory. Cooper disagrees, saying that a lawsuit between McCrory and the legislature established the governor’s ability to make appointments without interference from the General Assembly.
Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) attended the committee meeting Wednesday – though he said afterward that according to the court order, it should never have been called to order.
“It’s a charade, it’s foolish, it’s nonsense,” McKissick said of the meeting. “They should respect an order of this court that says that House Bill 17, as it is today with Section 3, does not allow this meeting to occur.”
McKissick said his Republican colleagues were not even respecting the process they themselves set up.
“The governor has not even recommended and nominated these people officially through this process,” McKissick said. “He has until May 15 to do so. Until he were to submit those names, they really shouldn’t even be conducting meetings. They arbitrarily decided to do it anyway. But they are restrained under this court order from holding any of these meetings to enforce the operative provisions of House Bill 17 relating to this nomination process.”
McKissick also objected to language in a statement from Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore in which they said of the judges, “Their decision to legislate from the bench will have profound consequences, and they should immediately reconvene their panel and reverse their order.”
McKissick said the language was “a veiled threat.”
“I think it’s improper,” McKissick said. “They’re the ones who set up this process with the three judge panel. I have to have confidence in these judges. When they make these decisions, whether we like them or not, they have to be respected.”