Power struggle develops over defending NC laws

Posted July 30, 2013
Updated July 31, 2013

— In the wee hours last Friday morning, lawmakers approved a surprise measure as they were leaving town to give House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger the same authority as the attorney general to speak for the state in court.

"The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, as agents of the State, shall jointly have standing to intervene on behalf of the General Assembly as a party in any judicial proceeding challenging a North Carolina statute or provision of the North Carolina Constitution," reads the provision that was tacked onto an unrelated bill.

Critics of the move say it violates separation of powers between the different branches of government.

"Standing is something that's traditionally decided and granted by the courts. So, it really is unprecedented for lawmakers to simply give themselves standing," said Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU in North Carolina, which is suing the state over its same-sex marriage ban.

Rep Paul Stam, R-Wake, said he pushed the measure through because Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, doesn't see eye-to-eye with Republican lawmakers. Cooper has publicly criticized North Carolina's ban on gay marriage, as well as regulations on voting and abortion that were passed this session.

"I just wonder if he's able to set his political opinions aside and look at the words on the page," Stam said Tuesday.

Earlier this month, attorneys general in Pennsylvania and New Mexico said they would not defend their states' same-sex marriage bans.

"If your lawyer won't defend you, for example, on voter rights, you need to be able to defend yourself," Stam said.

Cooper said North Carolina law doesn't allow him to choose not to defend a law, even if he doesn't agree with it.

"It's the job of the attorney general to defend the state, particularly when the state's laws are constitutionally challenged," he said.

The legislation is unnecessary and could make litigation more expensive, Cooper said, adding that it's still up to the judge in any particular case to decide who can speak for the state.

"It provides some opportunity for there to be some inconsistency and confusion in the representation of the state," he said.

Gov. Pat McCrory hasn't said whether he'll sign the bill. Only two other states have similar laws: Wyoming and Oklahoma. 


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  • josephlawrence43 Aug 1, 2013

    I support most ( but not totally everything) the Legislature has done thusfar. I have to admit my doubts about this one though. Seems to be stretching things a tad.

  • teacher56 Jul 31, 2013

    I am not surprised in the least by all of the recent legislation that this session has produced. Tillis and Berger are not only out of touch with the common man, they both seem to be obsessed with power. There is no other way to describe this other than two Napoleons who wish to go all the way to Washington with their political aspirations of power to rule. I can't wait for the next election!

  • NYtoNC81 Jul 31, 2013

    ILoveDowntownRaleigh: The politicians here call themselves Democrats but they talk a strictly Republican agenda". Since then, I've gotten used to it, but it's always there. I went through life considered by everyone I knew as a boring, middle-of-the-road Democrat, and I was very comfortable with that - then I moved to NC, and people here call me a crazy left-wing extremist and a lot of other things I can't repeat here.

    Me: Just want to echo this sentiment. The state, even when in Dem hands is still right of center. If the center of your political spectrum is Deep South policits then sure North Carolina may lean left at times but I have voted Republican more times than I count in more central areas and I wouldn't dare vote for the extreme right politics you see from the majority of the GOP NCGA reps.

  • jackjones2nc Jul 31, 2013

    "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
    - John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton

  • rroadrunner99 Jul 31, 2013

    They pass a law giving them the power to say all laws they pass are legal. What's wrong with that picture? How dumb do they have to be?

  • SnupeLyin Jul 31, 2013

    They say the new laws are "fair" but then this happens because they know Washington is going to challenge their new laws are unconstitutional. Which. They are.

  • teleman60 Jul 31, 2013

    A thought : State officials who commit malfeasance by intentionally, willfully and conspiratorially passing unconstitutional laws, granting themselves undo judiciary powers and access to unlimited state funds are then PERSONALLY LIABLE TO THE CITIZENS OF THE STATE FOR ANY AND ALL MONIES SPENT PURSUANT TO COURT ACTIONS BROUGHT DUE TO THEIR MALFEASANCE PLUS ANY COURT COSTS AND FINES.

    McCrory. Tillis, Berger etc can be held personally liable for the millions spent to defend laws THEY KNEW WERE UNCONSTITUTIONAL when they forced them through.

    That is why AG Cooper advised McCrory to veto the laws!

  • cupofcoffee Jul 31, 2013

    Full employment for lawyers act. Awesome.

  • Scubagirl Jul 31, 2013

    "Good news, The Koch Brothers are moving their headquarters to Charlotte since this state is now their playground.

    and they'll share a building w/ Art.......

  • monami Jul 31, 2013

    "Why do you hate minorities so much? Why do you support suppressing certain populations from voting? Why do you disdain the poor as much as you do? Why do you enjoy trampling on the rights of women? Why do you take great delight in pulling resources from our children? Why do you turn a blind eye to the sick in our community? Why do you not care at all about the environment? Why are you so scared that you feel like you always need to have a gun at your side? Must be a lonely existence..."

    I really want to GOP GA members to answer these questions. It's unfathomable that a majority contingent of humans could all be tainted with this degree of targeted hostility. What makes them despise their fellow citizens and want to destroy our environment?