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Updated: Mixed news for Cooper from 3-panel judge on confirmation hearings

This story has been updated to reflect new statements from the Governor’s Office.

There appears to be some confusion after a court ruling Tuesday about whether the Senate can continue with confirmation hearings for Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet appointees.

The six-page order from a three-panel judge states that Cooper has to formally submit his cabinet appointees to the Senate president before the Senate can begin the advice and consent process. But the order is also a denial of Cooper’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt those hearings until the conclusion of his lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the hearings.

The judges also dissolved a temporary restraining order they previously granted halting the hearings.

Cooper’s office said they are satisfied with the ruling because it makes clear that the governor has to initiate the advice and consent process, which he has not yet done.

“The three judge panel has made clear that the ‘Senate cannot begin the advice and consent process until the Governor submits a nominee,'” said Cooper’s spokesman Ford Porter. “The panel also found that the Governor has not submitted his nominees and has until May 15 to do so. The Governor plans to wait for the full hearing on the constitutionality of this law to go forward on March 7th before submitting his nominees, which he believes will not be necessary.”

But Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore released a joint statement after the court’s order praising the judges for allowing them to move forward.

“It is incredibly encouraging that this court has shown judicial restraint and rejected Gov. Cooper’s extraordinary request to stop the people’s elected representatives from conducting a fair, open and transparent hearing process to determine whether his proposed cabinet secretaries are qualified, without conflicts of interest, and willing to follow the law,” it states.

The judges did write in the order that Cooper’s appointees can serve as acting officers in their appointed roles and may appear before the General Assembly on matters related to their service.

Cooper’s counsel, however, said that it means appointees can continue meeting with legislators to talk about their portfolios, but the order makes clear the Senate can’t hold the hearings until Cooper formally submits his appointees.

The judges wrote in the order that Cooper’s attorneys had not established a likelihood of irreparable harm because none of his nominees had been denied Senate confirmation. The order also states that Cooper could return to court should one of his nominees be denied confirmation.

The judges did not address the constitutional challenges raised regarding the hearings and a trial is set to take place March 7.

Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender), who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Nominations, declined to comment on how the committee will move forward. His office said Rabon is still talking the verdict over with Berger and other Senate leaders.

Hearings were expected to take six weeks.

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