The Senate voted unanimously Monday night to confirm former legislator Larry Hall as Secretary of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
The vote was taken after weeks of back-and-forth in the courts over whether or not the Senate could continue with confirmation hearings while a lawsuit was pending.
Gov. Roy Cooper sued legislative leaders over the constitutionality of the confirmation hearings — the process of which was passed hastily during a special session in December. The lawsuit goes to trial later this morning.
The court denied Cooper’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the hearings until after the trial. The court found, however, that Cooper is to initiate the advice and consent process by first formally notifying the Senate president of his appointees, which he has not yet done and has until May 15 to do.
Before the full Senate voted to confirm Hall, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender) said the hearing last week was a “great show of transparency and good government” and “did provide a great service to the public.”
Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. (D-Durham, Granville) argued on the Senate floor that the vote was before the body prematurely.
“I think we can all agree that Larry Hall is preemptively qualified,” McKissick said. “He’ll be able to serve more veterans more effectively than ever before.”
He added, however, that the Senate would be better advised to vote to confirm Hall after today’s trial.
“We should wait, we should be deliberative, let the courts decide,” he said.
McKissick said he planned to vote to confirm Hall out of respect, but that he would be remiss if he didn’t discuss the timing of the vote.
Republican voters did not respond well to his argument. Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie, Iredell, Rowan) said the courts didn’t need to decide whether the Senate could vote because the people already did when they ratified the Constitution.
Another senator grilled McKissick about what he thought of the federal advice and consent process, and Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph) asked him what might happen if they didn’t have the process and something bad were to come out about a secretary.
Tillman said it was common sense to ask Cooper’s appointees questions about their qualifications.
“Unfortunately, Sen. McKissick, you don’t make the rules this time,” he added. “We do.”
McKissick made clear to his colleagues that he respected the federal process but questioned North Carolina’s since it was passed in a special session dedicated to reducing Cooper’s powers before he took office. He added that if the court OK’s the Senate confirmation hearings, he wouldn’t speak up anymore, but his current problem was that the case was still pending when the vote was taken.
In a statement after the Senate voted to confirm Hall, the body’s President Pro Tem Phil Berger released a statement that, unlike previous ones, did not address the ongoing power struggle before the courts.
“North Carolina is a proud military state, with the third-largest active duty and reserve population in America and many highly-respected veterans who have chosen to make this state their permanent home,” Berger said. “The Secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is a very important role, and we appreciate Secretary Hall’s participation in the confirmation process and pledge to continue serving honorably, just as he did in his years of military service.”