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Judge Stopped the Republican Coup in North Carolina in its Tracks

The restraining order was filed in response to a lawsuit filed by Governor-elect Roy Cooper, who said the new law would limit voters’ access to the ballot box.

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North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper speaks to supporters at a victory rally the day after his Republican opponent and incumbent Pat McCrory conceded in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

A judge has stopped a controversial law passed by North Carolina Republicans aimed at limiting the power of the new Democratic governor.

On Friday, Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens granted a temporary restraining order to stop Senate Bill 4 from taking effect, which would strip the governor of his power over the State Board of Elections. The restraining order was filed in response to a lawsuit filed by Governor-elect Roy Cooper, who said the new law would limit voters’ access to the ballot box.

“This complex new law passed in just two days by the Republican legislature is unconstitutional and anything but bipartisan. A tie on a partisan vote would accomplish what many Republicans want: making it harder for North Carolinians to vote,” Cooper argued. “It will result in elections with longer lines, reduced early voting, fewer voting places, little enforcement of campaign finance laws, indecision by officials and mass confusion.”

In North Carolina, the State Board of Elections — which oversees county election boards — is made up of both Democrats and Republicans, with members of the governor’s party having a one-vote majority. Senate Bill 4 would have eliminated the one-vote majority, meaning the legislature would ultimately control the State Board of Elections.

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger unironically spun the Governor-elect’s lawsuit to stop his law from taking effect as a power grab.

“Roy Cooper’s effort to stop the creation of a bipartisan board with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to enforce elections and ethics laws may serve his desire to preserve his own political power, but it does not serve the best interests of our state,” Berger said in a public statement.

North Carolina Republicans have been accused by local NAACP leader Rev. William Barber of deliberately inhibiting the rights of African American voters in predominantly Democratic counties. The accusation isn’t so far-fetched, as the North Carolina Republican Party publicly bragged about suppressing black voter turnout in the leadup to the election.

Shortly after Republican Governor Pat McCrory reluctantly accepted the razor-thin results of the November 8 election that resulted in Democratic challenger Roy Cooper’s victory, the Republicans who have controlled the North Carolina legislature since 2010 called a surprise special session to limit Cooper’s powers, immediately after the conclusion of a special session to pass emergency disaster funding. The General Assembly building was flooded with protesters who denounced the attempts to inhibit the new governor’s power as a “coup.”

Governor-elect Cooper will officially be sworn in on January 1.

Zach Cartwright is an activist and author from Richmond, Virginia. He enjoys writing about politics, government, and the media. Send him an email at [email protected], and follow his work on the Public Banking Institute blog.