Common Cause Suit Challenges North Carolina Legislature

Leaders Convened Special Session Without Required Notice

Posted by Dale Eisman on April 19, 2017


They’re elected to do the people’s business, so aren’t the people entitled to some notice of when and where they’re going to do it?

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by Common Cause North Carolina and 10 Carolinians asks a state court to nullify two bills passed at a special session of the state legislature last December because legislative leaders provided no advance public notice of their meeting.

The suit cites a provision of the North Carolina Constitution giving citizens “a right… to instruct their representatives, and to apply to the General Assembly for redress of grievances.”

“The right of the people ‘to instruct their representatives’ is meaningless if they have no notice and no opportunity to be heard,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina.

The defendants in the case are Lt. Gov. Daniel J. Forest, who was sued in his capacity as president of the state Senate, House Speaker Timothy K. Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Philip E. Berger, the top leaders of the state legislature.

The Dec. 14 session was the last in a series of special legislative meetings called after the fiercely-contested November general election, as Republican legislative leaders were reeling at the election of a Democratic governor and residents struggled with the damage caused by forest fires in western North Carolina and by Hurricane Matthew in the state’s eastern counties.

Democrat Roy Cooper unseated incumbent Republican Pat McCrory in the NC governor’s race. The special session was largely focused on shifting traditional gubernatorial powers to the GOP-controlled legislature.

The session was announced at noon on Dec. 14 and convened just two hours later. There was “no notice as to the possible legislative subjects of the session, nor any explanation for why a special session was needed,” the suit notes. “Before this announcement, no legislator had told the public or the media that there would be a Fourth Extra Session, or even that such a session was being considered.”

The special session lasted just a few hours, running on a schedule that dispensed with the usual rules that allow lobbyists and the public to comment on the bills being considered.

The two approved bills made major changes in the structure of state government. One reconstituted the State Board of Elections to install a Republican chairman during major election years and give the legislature the power to appoint half of the board’s eight members; all five members of the previous board has been gubernatorial appointees. The bill also converted the state’s non-partisan elections for seats on the State Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals to partisan contests.

The second bill shifted the governor’s power to appoint leaders of key state agencies to the legislature.

“We feel like not having notification for the people — that this was even a session that was happening is a really important point to make,” Phillips told WNCN, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh. “The legislation is a little bit of a secondary issue for us.”

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Office: Common Cause National, Common Cause North Carolina

Issues: Ethics, Voting and Elections

Tags: State Ethics

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