NC GOP’s latest power grab again blocked by judges

A panel of judges has temporarily blocked North Carolina Republicans’ latest attempt to give their party more control than Democrats over the state’s elections.

The three state judges ruled by 2-1 late Friday to grant a request by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, that a GOP-backed law overhauling state and county elections boards be put on hold. Cooper alleges that the law is an unconstitutional violation of the state’s separation of powers.

The temporary restraining order issued by the judges isn’t a decision on the merits of the case. It lasts only until May 10, when the judges will hear Cooper’s full challenge. But in explaining the reasons for the order, the judges noted that Cooper “has shown a likelihood of success” on the merits of his challenge.

State judges Jesse Caldwell and Todd Burke, both Democrats, voted to issue the order. Judge Jeff Foster, a Republican, voted to deny it.

As we reported last week, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature overrode Cooper’s veto to muscle into law a measure that changed the state’s longstanding practice for administering elections. Previously, state and local election boards were controlled by the governor’s party. Under the new law, the boards would be equally split between the two parties, and Republicans would chair the boards in all even-numbered years, which are when all major elections take place.

The law also would leave in place for at least two years the current state elections director, Kim Strach, who was appointed by the state board when it was under Republican control in 2013.

To override Cooper’s veto, Republicans needed super-majorities in both houses, which they enjoy thanks in part to a redistricting plan found to be a racially discriminatory gerrymander.

The three judges who put the scheme on hold Friday are the same panel who earlier this year ruled unconstitutional much of a similar law passed in December and signed by the outgoing governor, Republican Pat McCrory.

Republicans have said the new legislation avoids the problems of the previous measure. But in issuing Friday’s order, the judges may have signaled skepticism about that claim.

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