Commentary

Editorial: Cooper right to veto two GOP power grab bills

The Fayetteville Observer has another fine editorial praising on Governor Cooper’s latest vetoes of Republican power grabbing legislation. This is from “North Carolina politics triumph over impartial, efficient justice”:

The first of the two bills is a try-try-again effort by lawmakers to merge the state’s ethics and elections boards into a single eight-member body equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. A three-judge panel last month tossed out an earlier attempt to create such a board and this new version tries to tiptoe around the judges’ constitutional concerns. While Republicans say the board would fairly represent both parties, the reality is that it likely would create gridlock — deadlocked 4-4 votes on any proposed changes in election procedures that would thus leave in place Republican decisions made during former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

Worse, adding the responsibilities of dealing with ethics complaints and debating regulations would further bog down the combined board, quite possibly creating an anything-goes ethical environment in Raleigh, which for some lawmakers might turn out to be a much-appreciated license to steal.

Cooper said the election-ethics bill is “the same unconstitutional legislation in another package, and it’s an attempt to make it harder for people to register and vote.” Cooper urged lawmakers to “stop electoral manipulation, which, like gerrymandering, is what’s wrong with politics.”

Well, it’s one thing that’s wrong with politics. There are others, and that includes the second measure Cooper vetoed Friday, a bill that will reduce the state Court of Appeals from 15 members to 12. The only rationale for the bill is political — it prevents Cooper from appointing Democratic judges to three upcoming vacancies that will occur when members reach the mandatory retirement age of 72. But as the governor pointed out Friday, it will put a heavier workload on the remaining dozen judges, who generally hear cases in three-judge panels. It also will slow the administration of justice, because appeals won’t be heard as quickly.

A Republican Court of Appeals judge gave credence to Cooper’s position when he resigned from his seat on Monday, rather than wait until his mandatory retirement date arrived next month. His was one of the three vacancies Republicans wanted to prevent Cooper from filling. Judge Doug McCullough filed his letter of resignation and Cooper quickly appointed Democrat John Arrowood to the seat. McCullough told The News & Observer that he didn’t want his legacy to be “impairment to the appeals court” because of its reduced size. “It makes it administratively awkward, and we would end up deciding fewer cases.

Yet to the lawmakers who also decided to force all judges’ political parties to be listed on ballots, it’s clear that partisanship is paramount in our legal system, easily besting virtues like efficiency, effectiveness or impartiality.

Cooper’s veto was the right reaction to both of these political statements. When the legislative majority overrides him, at least their constituents will know which values they hold highest.

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