Plaintiffs ask NC Supreme Court to review lawsuit over 2016 surprise special session

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the 2016 surprise special legislative session are asking the North Carolina Supreme Court to review their case after the Court of Appeals ruled the judicial branch has no right to tell General Assembly how quickly to enact laws or to require them to give advance notice ahead of a session.

They filed a petition Tuesday with the high court in Common Cause v. Forest. The suit argues that lawmakers violated the state Constitution in December 2016 when they called a special session without notice to the public to make sweeping changes to state government.

“There was no justifiable reason for the 2016 special legislative session that was hatched in secrecy,” said Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause North Carolina. “It was a deliberate effort by Republican legislative leaders to keep citizens in the dark about their plans to engage in a nakedly partisan power grab. It was wrong, and it must not happen again. We are hopeful that the North Carolina Supreme Court will take up our appeal and ultimately rule in favor of the people of North Carolina and our constitutional rights.”

The bills that were passed out of the challenged special session were Senate Bill 4, which changed the structure of state and county boards of elections and the State Ethics Commission, created partisan appellate judicial elections, and stripped the newly elected governor of the power to administer the Industrial Commission, and House Bill 17, which transferred power from the state Board of Education to the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

There has already been extensive litigation over the substance of those bills rather than the special session itself.

A unanimous, bipartisan three-judge Court of Appeals panel rejected in January the argument that the people have a right to instruct their representatives via a time limit for public notice of a special session.

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