On Thursday, the Republican leaders of both the House and Senate declared Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s call for a special session to address redistricting unconstitutional, and rejected the call.
On Wednesday Cooper signed a proclamation calling for the 14-day special session to begin on Thursday, for the purpose of redrawing the state legislative maps.
The proclamation said that the session was to “remedy the legislative districts ruled unconstitutional” in a U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling, Covington V. North Carolina.
But in the SCOTUS ruling issued this week the case was remanded to the lower court for further consideration, and its ruling that the state hold new elections in 2017 was vacated.
Cooper’s move is likely an attempt to force the legislature to redraw the maps, and then conceivably hold 2017 elections, rather than waiting until the regularly scheduled 2018 election cycle.
Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Elections, issued a statement following the Senate decision to reject Cooper’s call for a special session.
“Despite all his talk about separation of powers, it’s clear Roy Cooper wants to be North Carolina’s governor, legislature, and, with this latest stunt, its judiciary too. The courts have yet to give the legislature direction on this matter, and we will be prepared to undertake a thorough redistricting process with ample notice and opportunities for public input when they do. In the meantime, we refuse to be manipulated by the governor into having an unconstitutional special session and will keep our focus on passing a balanced state budget that raises teacher pay, provides relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew, and puts money back into the pockets of middle-class families.”
According to the release, Cooper’s order violated Article III, Sec. 5, of the North Carolina Constitution, which outlines the policies by which the governor can call a special session.
Under the constitution, the governor can call an extra session “on extraordinary occasions, by and with the advice of the Council of State,” but Senate leadership said that Cooper had no extraordinary occasion, especially with the legislature already in session, and that Cooper did not meaningfully comply with the requirement to seek advice on the call from the Council of State, the majority of which are Republicans.
Information released from Attorney General Josh Stein’s Office, after a public records request, show that Cooper Chief of Staff Kristi Jones sent out an email requesting the advice of the Council of State about two hours before issuing the proclamation, according to the News & Observer.
Of the three responses to the request for “a brief response acknowledging receipt of [the] email,” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said they believed a special session was premature or unwarranted. Stein merely responded saying, “I acknowledge receipt.”
“Governor Cooper has no constitutional role in redistricting and his latest political stunt is an effort to deter House lawmakers from our work on a bipartisan budget that received support from both parties,” Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said in a release. “The North Carolina House of Representatives fully intends to comply with a federal court’s order to redraw our legislative maps, however, we do not yet have guidance from the court on how to do so, nor have we been given time to undertake a comprehensive redistricting process with sufficient notice and opportunities for public input. Further, the federal court did provide direction for the legislature to undertake redistricting in a regular session, not a special session. The House intends to do so after receiving guidance from the court, and in the meantime we remain committed to cutting taxes, raising teacher pay and protecting North Carolina’s citizens with disaster relief funding and historic commitments to our state’s savings reserves.”