N.C.’s ex-governors: vote against two amendments

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The N.C. General Assembly has had its share of face-offs with the courts. Repeatedly, judges have ruled unconstitutional any laws that would give executive power to the legislature — most recently blocking a legislative raid on the appointment power of the Governor.

Unable to get their way by passing laws, legislators now seek to change the N.C. Constitution to let the General Assembly control all names put forward to fill vacancies in the courts, and take control over the state board that oversees elections and government ethics — appointment powers that are granted to the Governor by the state Constitution.

These two constitutional amendments appear on the ballot this election. One would empower the legislature to recommend to the Governor two names to fill a judicial vacancy. The Governor would have just 10 days to choose one of their nominees, or the appointment power would revert to the General Assembly.

We know from experience that 10 days allows insufficient time to thoroughly vet finalists, particularly in emergencies. The process includes extensive interviews and background checks that take weeks to complete. What if the Governor rejects both candidates? The legislators will appoint one of them.

Under the other amendment, the General Assembly would recommend to the Governor the finalists for appointment to the eight-member Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement — four from each party. This amendment eliminates the current ninth member of the board, who represents unaffiliated voters and serves as a tie-breaker in case of party-line voting. Again, if the Governor fails to appoint within 10 days, the legislature makes the appointment.

Political appointees on the elections and ethics board would constantly be deadlocked 4-to-4 by partisan voting. Enforcement of ethics and elections laws would be stymied, including decisions over lobbying, early voting, and campaign finance. No one could be held accountable for bad or non-decisions, because the Governor would no longer be responsible.

The courts struck down as unconstitutional previous attempts to accomplish such power grabs through legislation, for violating the “separation of powers” clause of the N.C. Constitution. The “separation of powers” clause ensures that no one branch of government — legislative, executive or judicial — attains too much power.

These constitutional amendments would dramatically shift more power to an already dominant legislature. All five former Governors and six former Chief Justices of the N.C. Supreme Court are united in bipartisan opposition to both amendments.

Legislative leaders argue that the amendments are “bipartisan” because legislative recommendations would come from a “Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission” of appointees from all three branches of government. Yet the General Assembly would dictate the finalists. The people who make laws and set salaries for judges would now control appointments to fill vacant seats in the very courts that have blocked their legislative overreach.

The General Assembly is a partisan body, regardless of which party has the majority. Legislators are accountable only to the people in their home district. The Governor is elected by the majority of all voters in the state, and is therefore accountable to all the people.

The N.C. Constitution enshrines the balance of power between these branches, and wisely gives the Governor appointment power for judicial replacements and the Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement. Let’s keep it that way.

Support the Constitution and its balance of powers. Keep the legislature in its place to enact laws, not enforce them. Vote against both amendments.

Written by Governors James B. Hunt, Jr., James G. Martin, Michael F. Easley, Beverly Eaves Perdue and Patrick L. McCrory.