State senators gave the first of Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet appointees the nod Monday evening in a unanimous vote, clearing the way for Secretary Larry Hall to lead the state Department of Veterans Affairs, whether Cooper’s court case over the confirmation process succeeds or not.
Hall was a longtime state representative from Durham County and is a former Marine. His confirmation comes just one day before a three-judge panel in Wake County is set to hear arguments in Cooper’s case against the legislature over the confirmation process.
Hall previously skipped three confirmation hearings after a court order put a hold on the process. However, after the third hearing the Senate issued a subpoena demanding that Hall appear for his confirmation hearing.
The court declined to step in after the Senate issued the subpoena and said that Cooper would only be harmed if the Senate had voted against approval. Hall’s confirmation was unanimously approved in two committees as well as the full Senate.
On Tuesday the three-judge panel will hear arguments from both sides and will decide whether the process is constitutional, as the legislature argues, or a violation of the executive rights of the governor, as Cooper’s camp says.
Republican lawmakers say the state Constitution gives the Senate the authority to give “advice and consent” to the governor’s nominees. Some non-Cabinet appointees of the governor already go through both House and Senate confirmation.
Lawmakers say the process will allow them to determine, in a public format, whether a cabinet-level secretary has the qualifications to do the job, has any conflicts of interest and will follow the law.
Attorneys for the governor argue that the process only applies to constitutional officers and that he has until May 15 to formally nominate his appointees, even though they are already doing the jobs they have been nominated to.
In all, Cooper has nominated eight cabinet-level secretaries since taking office just after midnight on Jan. 1. He has two more to pick, the heads of the Department of Information Technology and the Department of Revenue.
The legislature passed the new law creating the confirmation process, as well as making other changes to the powers of the executive office in the state, before former Gov. Pat McCrory left office last year.
HB17, in addition to calling for the Senate confirmation process, adjusted the relationship between the superintendent of public instruction and the Department of Education, giving more power to the superintendent and pulling power from the governor. The law also pulled the power of appointment to the board of trustees for the state universities from the governor.
The state of North Carolina has traditionally had a weaker executive branch. In 1996 North Carolina became the last state in the union to grant its governor the power to veto legislation.