Raleigh, N.C. — Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis said Friday that they have retained pro bono outside legal counsel to advise them on defending North Carolina’s constitutional amendment on marriage.
Six families have challenged the amendment, which voters statewide approved last year, that defines marriage in North Carolina as the union of one man and one woman.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, whose office normally defends legal challenges to state law, has publicly criticized the amendment, which Tillis and Berger said calls into question his willingness to vigorously defend the amendment in court.
“North Carolinians deserve an attorney general who defends the law 100 percent of the time, regardless of political ambition," the legislative leaders said in a statement. "It’s unfortunate we have to take this step to ensure the voters’ strong support for a constitutional amendment protecting marriage is defended.”
Cooper is expected to be a Democratic candidate for governor in 2016.
Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, said attorneys in the office "are successfully defending the state in this case and will continue to work diligently to do so."
The General Assembly isn't formally intervening in the lawsuit at this time, they said, but the outside counsel will be able to review the work of the Attorney General’s Office to ensure Cooper is fulfilling his duty. The name of the lawyer wasn't released.
Berger and Tillis reiterated their confidence in the professional, nonpartisan staff at the state Department of Justice, adding that they hope Cooper "takes the appropriate action to firewall them from his political activity."
Outside counsel also has been hired to help defend challenges to the sweeping elections law passed this summer after Cooper called the legislation "regressive."
Gov. Pat McCrory hired Karl S. "Butch" Bowers Jr., a former member of the Justice Department closely associated with Republican causes, while the General Assembly hired Tom Farr, the same lawyer lawmakers called on to help defend newly drawn legislative and congressional districts in state court. Neither Bowers nor Farr is working pro bono.