State leaders call for Cooper’s resignation; could impeachment proceedings follow?
Following Attorney General Roy Cooper’s announcement that he will not defend the state in court challenges over its statewide non-discrimination employment law, leaders in the Senate and House are calling for his resignation.
Cooper said that his office has had a non-discrimination policy in place since 2001 that the new state law is now at odds with, and that his office will not defend the constitutionality of HB 2.
Cooper and his office will instead argue against the law in the name of his office’s policy and the State Treasurer’s Office, which allow protections for workers based on marital status or sexual orientation.
“In order to protect our non-discrimination policy and employees, along with those of our client, the State Treasurer’s Office, part of our argument will be that HB 2 is unconstitutional,” Cooper said.
Berger calls for Cooper’s resignation
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) called for Cooper’s resignation this week after he announced he would not be defending the state against Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Equality North Carolina (ACLU-NC), who are supporting the three plaintiffs in the case against the state: two transgender people and a law professor from Durham.
“Roy Cooper’s refusal to defend the law makes clear he wants the ACLU to win by default in federal court what they can’t win at the ballot box and allow men to walk into locker rooms at YMCAs across our country and undress in front of young girls. His zeal for pandering for the extreme left’s money and agenda in his race for governor is making it impossible for him to fulfill his duties as attorney general – and he should resign immediately,” Berger said.
Impeachment not on the table yet
Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Beaufort) said that the “jury is still out” on whether he would support impeachment proceedings to handle Cooper’s refusal to perform the duties of his office.
“The jury is still out on (impeachment) but he needs to do the honorable thing and resign,” he said. “He thinks he knows better than the 170 people at the legislature, but we are winding down his tenure anyway. He is going to be out of there soon.”
Cooper, who has served as attorney general for the last 15 years, is making a run to unseat Gov. Pat McCrory in November.
Rep. John Bell IV (R-Wayne) said that he would have to look at the requirements for impeachment proceedings. But one thing that is clear is that “the attorney general has refused to do the job he is required to do.”
Bell said that he is just disappointed that Cooper has refused to represent the state in the courts.
State law charges AG with court defense of state
The first duty of the attorney general in North Carolina, under state law, is “to defend all actions in the appellate division in which the State shall be interested, or a party, and to appear for the State in any other court or tribunal in any cause of matter, civil or criminal, in which the State may be a party or interested.”
By refusing to defend HB2 in court, Cooper would seem to have run afoul of at least one of the four reasons outlined for impeaching a member of the Council of State: willful neglect of duty.
Impeachment can also be brought when a sitting member of the Council of State commits a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude or commits a malfeasance in office.
To impeach Cooper, all that is required is a majority vote of the House to impeach. Then the Senate would be tasked with trying Cooper. There a two-thirds vote of the senators present would convict Cooper.
If convicted, Cooper could be removed from office or disqualified from holding any office of “honor, trust, or profit under this State” or both.
Rep. Ken Goodman (D-Hoke) voted along with Republicans to pass HB 2 but says that if Cooper is morally opposed to the law Cooper is entitled to refuse to represent the state.
“I don’t think he’s obligated to resign. Obviously there is a lot of politics going on,” he said. “I would be opposed to (impeachment), there is a pretty high bar there. If he believes it is unconstitutional I don’t, but if he does then an impeachment wouldn’t go anywhere.”
Cooper also refused to defend DOMA
It isn’t the first time Cooper has refused to represent the state in court. In 2014 Cooper decided that he would no longer represent the state in court over the Defense of Marriage Act.
At the time he said, “It’s time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward, knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the United States Supreme Court. All federal courts have rejected these arguments each and every time, so it’s time for the state of North Carolina to stop making them,” he said. “There’s really no argument left to be made.”
Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake) said that he would not want to “make a martyr” of Cooper by impeaching him but that the attorney general should resign after again refusing to defend the state.
“He refused to defend the state on the grounds that there were no more arguments to be made,” he said. “But the arguments were compelling enough that four justices voted for them. We’ll have an election in November to decide if he stays in an office.”