North Carolina’s Republican Governor Patrick McCrory [official website] signed into law Senate Bill 4 [PDF] Friday, which restricts the powers of the incoming governor Democrat Roy Cooper [official website], who was also the state’s Attorney General until he was elected. The North Carolina General Assembly [official website] also passed House Bill 17 [text], yet to be signed by McCrory, which further restricts the incoming governor’s powers. Specifically, Senate Bill 4 eliminates the governor’s control over the State Board of Elections [official website] by reducing the number of members from the governor’s party on the board from three out of a total of five to two out of a total of four. Senate Bill 4 also requires the party affiliations of judicial candidates to be printed on ballots and further increases the power of North Carolina’s appellate courts. House Bill 17, if signed, would require Cooper’s cabinet secretaries to be confirmed by the Senate, reduce the number of administrative positions in the executive branch, strip the governor of his powers to appoint trustees at the University of North Carolina and some of his powers to oversee schools in the state. McRory lost to Cooper in the November elections but refused to concede victory [NPR report] until a recount proved that he lost by more than 10,000 votes. Stating that these bills will have a significant impact on education, tax policy and health care, Cooper said: “[t]hey knew for weeks what they were going to do and they didn’t tell the public. That’s wrong. They need to put these issues out on the table so that the people know about them so that there’s time to debate them.” Many protesters gathered outside the North Carolina legislative assembly to voice their opposition against the bill, and more than 50 have been arrested during demonstrations.
Last week the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in racial gerrymandering cases involving North Carolina and Virginia. In the North Carolina case, it was alleged that two congressional districts, NC-1 and NC-12, were packed with African-Americans in order to lessen their voting power in other districts. Earlier this month Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy websites] and other women’s groups filed suits [JURIST report] challenging abortion laws in North Carolina, Alaska and Missouri. The challenged law in North Carolina is one that prevents doctors from performing abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy. Last month the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [advocacy website] filed a federal lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging North Carolina’s sudden cancellation of voter registrations across three counties. The voter removals, executed by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, were the result of third party challenges to an estimated 4,500 voters who had mailings returned as undeliverable. In September the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed [JURIST report] a lower court’s dismissal of a claim by two former magistrates that their rights were violated by 2014 guidance memos from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) [official website] that said they could be fired if they refused to perform same-sex marriages. In September the rights coalition North Carolinians for Privacy dropped their case against the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] challenging the federal government’s restroom access policy after a federal district court judge ruled [JURIST report] the previous month that North Carolina’s House Bill No. 2 (HB2) [PDF], dubbed as the bathroom bill, violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 [text].