Judge allows challenge to special session

RALEIGH (AP) — A judge won’t dismiss a lawsuit challenging a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly late last year in which Republicans passed bills eroding powers of incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Common Cause and several state residents sued in the spring over last December’s session, saying legislative leaders didn’t give proper notice to citizens before holding it. They want the laws passed during the session nullified.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that Judge Osmond Smith on Tuesday refused a request by Republican legislative leaders and GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to throw out the lawsuit. They say the session was properly called. Now the case will be heard by a three-judge panel, which is directed in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of acts of the General Assembly.

Lawmakers were already in Raleigh on Dec. 14 for another special session called by then-Gov. Pat McCrory to address Hurricane Matthew relief when the GOP leaders convened another session after only two hours’ notice. The state Constitution required the signatures of three-fifths of the members in the House and Senate to hold the additional session, which was officially called by Forest and House Speaker Tim Moore.

Republican legislators proceeded to pass laws over the next two days that in part shifted control over administering elections away from Cooper and subjected his Cabinet to Senate confirmation.

“This was legislating by ambush,” Burton Craige, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Tuesday in court.

Cooper already has sued over these and other laws, with mixed results to date.

The Common Cause lawsuit alleges the compressed schedule didn’t give the public enough time to use their right in the state Constitution to “instruct their representatives.”

Ann Matthews, a lawyer in the attorney general’s office defending the General Assembly’s actions, argued that there were media reports about the session and that protesters opposed to Republican policies had enough notice to demonstrate inside the Legislative Building.

“There’s nothing that they’ve alleged that shows they were unable to instruct their representatives,” she said.