NC Gov. Cooper vetoes bill giving more control to legislature. Court battle likely.

N.C. Senate President Phil Berger presides over the N.C. Senate’s session at the N.C. Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, June 20, 2023.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a separation of powers bill on Thursday, calling it “unconstitutional.”

With a General Assembly under total Republican control, it will likely be overridden and then end up in the courts.

Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 512, which takes some appointment power on various state governing boards away from the governor and gives it to the General Assembly, as well as some members of the Council of State. It is likely to end up in court as a test of the state Constitution.

“This legislation will hurt the effective and efficient use of taxpayer money by impairing the Governor’s constitutionally required duty to execute the laws passed by the legislature,” Cooper said in a statement announcing the veto.

“The bill interrupts the critical work of boards and commissions to protect public health, provide clean air and water, recruit new jobs, lower electric bills and more. Fundamentally it violates the separation of powers enshrined in the state Constitution. The courts have consistently rejected these legislative power grabs in McCrory v. Berger and other cases. Legislative efforts to seize executive power are unconstitutional and damage vital state work,” Cooper said.

The office of the North Carolina governor is already weak by design compared to other states, and if Republicans successfully overturn Cooper’s veto, it will take away even more power.

Veto override likely

The House and Senate hold veto-proof supermajorities so could override Senate Bill 512 without Democratic support. The debate has fallen mostly along party lines, with Democrats opposed and Republicans in favor. If it becomes law, the change will mostly impact the next governor, as Cooper leaves office in January 2025.

House Speaker Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, said when the bill was first introduced in committee that he expected it to end up in court.

House Rules Chair Destin Hall, a Caldwell County Republican, said during a debate that “even lawyers, judges and our state Supreme Court can’t agree on who has the authority in North Carolina.”

Before the bill passed the General Assembly earlier this month, House Minority Leader Robert Reives, a Chatham County Democrat, said that “consolidating power in this body is a bad, bad, bad idea.”

The legislative session has yet to end, though lawmakers have been in recess most of the summer except for a voting session last week, during which they overrode previous Cooper vetoes.

Lawmakers will be back in Raleigh in September, when the long-delayed state budget is expected to pass.

Cooper’s veto isn’t a surprise.

“I believe that the legislation is unconstitutional,” Cooper told reporters in June, saying that the governor should keep the same appointment power instead of it being reduced. There are several boards and commissions that would have fewer appointments made by the chief executive.

“We disagree with him as to whether or not it’s constitutional,” Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, said recently. “And we’ll see what the courts say if he decides to sue.”

Republicans also have a majority on the N.C. Supreme Court.