Legislative Watch: Court Derails Confirmation Hearings

Legislative Watch: Court Derails Confirmation Hearings

The big news from the General Assembly last week was what didn’t happen: the start of confirmation hearings for Governor Roy Cooper’s cabinet department heads.

Set to begin last Wednesday, the hearings were stopped before they started by order of the special three-judge panel hearing Cooper’s request to declare the law stripping him of various executive powers unconstitutional. Among the challenged provisions of that law is the State Senate’s new claimed authority to confirm or reject the Governor’s appointment of individuals to head his executive departments (such as Department of Environmental Quality, DEQ).

Cooper asserts that the state constitution gives the State Senate only the authority to confirm or deny “constitutional positions” and that the selection of “statutory positions” like the head of departments created by legislative action are not included. Once created, this argument continues that these executive management posts fall exclusively within the Governor’s inherent executive authority. The General Assembly’s Republican leadership defends the law by asserting that under the state constitution the legislature is the pre-eminent branch of state government with the authority to limit the powers of the other two (executive and judicial).

We’re not entirely certain that’s an argument that we would care to advance directly to the members of one of the supposedly inferior branches, the judiciary. However, we’ll see soon how well it flies with the judges themselves.

In the meantime, State Senate and House leaders waxed furiously indignant over the temerity of those judges to order the confirmation hearings suspended while they deliberate. State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore released a joint statement in which they fumed against the judges for making a “gross misreading of the Constitution and a blatant overstep of their Constitutional authority.”

This has the ring of a Trump tweet reacting to the federal court orders currently in effect halting implementation of his executive order on refugees. Increasingly direct verbal attacks on the individual judges making these important rulings represent a disturbing trend.

The stakes are high for the environment and public health. The leadership of DEQ, the Dept. of Health and Human Services, and the Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources are all on the line in this struggle over separation of powers between the Governor and the General Assembly.

Up next: read about the make-over taking place at the NC Department of Environmental Quality >>