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NC Senate Defies Court Order; Tries To Hold Confirmation Hearing

N.C. Senate chamber
Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC
N.C. Senate chamber
Credit NCGA
Republican State Senator Wesley Meredith (Cumberland County) Chairs the committee which defied the court order.

On Wednesday, the Republican leaders of the North Carolina Senate defied a court order and attempted to hold a confirmation hearing for one of Governor Roy Cooper’s cabinet appointees.

The attempt failed. And WFAE’s Tom Bullock joins Lisa Worf with details.

LW: So let’s start with the committee meeting. What was supposed to happen?

TB: Well, at 11 a.m. today the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee was set to debate the nomination of Larry Hall to run the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Hall served 16 years as a Marine and he’s no stranger to politicians in Raleigh. He’s also served as the Democratic Leader in the House and was a member of the Veterans Affairs committee.

But late last night, three Superior Court Judges granted a temporary restraining order to stop the proceedings.  

LW: And yet the confirmation hearing was still gaveled into session at 11 a.m.

TB: That’s right – in clear defiance of the court order. But Larry Hall did not show up. So what happened was an awkward bit of grandstanding.

Committee Chairman Wesley Meredith, a Republican from Cumberland County, read a short statement calling the judges' restraining order "unprecedented in state history" before adding “never before has a judge told the representatives elected by the citizens that they cannot hold a committee meeting as allowed by the Constitution.”

Then he quickly ended the meeting.

LW: Remind us about the legal case that led to the judge’s ruling.

TB: This dates back to mid-December, when it became clear Roy Cooper had defeated Republican Governor Pat McCrory, the GOP-lead General Assembly passed a series of laws to curtail the new Democratic governor’s power.

And one of those bills called for these Senate confirmation hearings to take place.

At the time GOP lawmakers pointed to a line in Article 3 of the North Carolina Constitution which reads “The governor shall nominate and by and with the advice and consent of a majority of the senators appoint all officers whose appointments are not otherwise provided for.” This, they said, included members of the governor’s cabinet.

It’s a clause seldom, if ever, used before.

Which is why Governor Cooper took this issue to court.

His lawyers argued the hearings infringed on the separation of powers. Lawyers for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger countered by saying they were just exercising their constitutional right.

And in issuing their temporary order blocking the hearings, the judges sided with the Governor Cooper, saying he showed a likelihood of winning the case overall.

And the judges ordered Cooper’s cabinet picks be allowed to run their departments until a future hearing decides the constitutionality of the law in question.

LW:  So it sounds like this case is not over.

TB: Not by a long shot. This temporary restraining order is in place until Friday, when another hearing for a longer restraining order is held. Then, the parties will be back in court in March when the legality of the confirmation hearings as a whole is considered.

LW:  Finally Tom, is there any likely punishment for the Senate for disobeying this court order?

TB: That’s not clear at this point. The Superior Court panel has yet to say anything on the matter. But since Larry Hall did not show up for the confirmation hearing, it could be argued the hearing didn’t really happen. We’ll have to see on this one.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.