North Carolina House lawmakers approved changes to two proposed constitutional amendments Friday after a three-judge panel found them to be misleading and ordered them removed from the fall ballot.
“What we are asking is that the people of this state get to decide this question. And, I don’t think using the courts to try to stop that is appropriate,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R) after the votes.
The two amendments in question deal with the separation of powers and had been the subject of a lawsuit filed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D).
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter wrote in an email Friday, “These new amendments remain deceptive, unconstitutional and wrong. Legislators are continuing their scheme to rip up our constitution to eliminate the separation of powers while also creating a deadlocked board of ethics that will protect legislators by stopping corruption investigations. Legislators should be voting to protect our constitution instead of insulating themselves from ethics and corruption investigations.”
The state’s living former governors and retired Supreme Court justices all announced their opposition to the amendments ahead before Friday’s special session.
Under the changes made Friday, one amendment would establish an eight-member board of elections and ethics enforcement.
It would no longer pull authority from the governor to appoint people to hundreds of other state boards and commissions. The other change Friday provides a longer description to another amendment that would change the process for filling judicial vacancies.
Democrats warned the elections and ethics board could be paralyzed by gridlock, with an even number of members coming from two different political parties.
On Friday morning former Republican governors Jim Martin and Pat McCrory wrote to lawmakers urging them to scrap the two amendments.
“We respectfully ask you to take this opportunity not just to rephrase the language on the ballot, but to withdraw both proposed amendments and remove them from the ballot,” they wrote. “No group of citizens has petitioned the General Assembly for these two particular amendments. They have raised concerns among many of our fellow Republicans. Removing them removes a major distraction as voters consider other proposed amendments, and will be seen by many as the proper, statesmanlike course for you.
Speaker Moore responded to criticism of the amendments by saying, “Sure, the governor’s going to have a little less authority, but ultimately it’s to the people.”
The Senate is scheduled to take up the changes approved by the House on Monday afternoon. Moore said lawmakers will not take up any other issues during the special session.
It’s not clear if another lawsuit will be filed if the Senate passes the amendments.
The questions to appear on the ballot would read as follows:
“[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST
“Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law.”
“[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST
“Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend at least two nominees to the Governor via legislative action not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.”
There are four other proposed constitutional amendments that will appear on the ballot that were not affected during Friday’s session.