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Gov. Cooper, NC Chamber at odds over Black nominees for state courts

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at an executive order signing ceremony at the governor's mansion in October.
Colin Campbell
Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at an executive order signing ceremony at the Governor's Mansion in October.

Gov. Roy Cooper says Republican lawmakers and the North Carolina Chamber are blocking Black nominees for state business courts.

The legislature hasn't taken any action to confirm some of the governor's nominees for business-related courts and commissions. Cooper says the inaction disproportionately affects Black nominees.

On Friday, he wrote a letter to the Chamber criticizing the group for not backing the nominees. Cooper notes that lawmakers rely on the Chamber's advice in reviewing business-related nominations.

Cooper says there's an "alarming racial disparity" in the confirmation process. Lawmakers haven't held hearings on two Black women he nominated to serve as judges on the Business Court, which has no Black judges. And they haven't acted on six different Black nominees to the Board of Review, which handles cases related to unemployment benefits.

"The General Assembly's overall record of confirming Black nominees from my office is abysmal," Cooper wrote. "They have confirmed just 13 out of 33 (39%) Black nominees from my office. By comparison, they have confirmed 42 out of 70 (60%) white nominees from my office. ... The Chamber's substantial influence on the General Assembly cannot be ignored when considering this pathetic record."

The N.C. Chamber responded that the claims of racism are "outrageous." Its leader wrote that the group has supported numerous other Black nominees, and other factors were involved with the failed nominations Cooper mentioned — such as nominees whose views conflicted with the Chamber on key business issues.

"Having worked tirelessly and effectively to secure a promising future for the entirety of North Carolina’s business community — and always doing so without regard to identity — being wrongly and arrogantly lectured to by the state’s chief executive with outrageous claims of racism is enormously hurtful and dispiriting," Chamber president and CEO Gary Salamido wrote. "It was a moment our team will never forget and one we trust you will not repeat."

Salamido went on to criticize Cooper for endorsing Attorney General Josh Stein over former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan in the Democratic primary for governor.

"It is also well-chronicled that a long-serving and highly regarded Supreme Court Justice recently resigned to seek your party’s nomination for governor," Salamido wrote. "He also happens to be Black. Not only have you swiftly endorsed his opponent, who is not Black, you also appointed a non-minority to fill his open seat on the Supreme Court."

Cooper's recent Black nominees include:

  • Jocelyn Mitnaul Mallette, a former prosecutor and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. Cooper announced her nomination to the Business Court in June.
  • Regina Adams, a longtime attorney with the Division of Employment Security, was nominated by Cooper to the Board of Review in 2022 and confirmed by the legislature.
  • Tenisha Jacobs, general counsel for the N.C. Department of Revenue and a former administrative law judge, was nominated by Cooper to the Business Court in 2022 and never confirmed. The Chamber and other business groups objected to her selection, citing concerns about the Department of Revenue's handling of solar tax credits.
Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.