The “legislative coup” against the in-coming governor could be viewed as yet another example of hyper-partisanship in American politics. And that view would be accurate, for the Republican-controlled legislature in coordination with the lame-duck Republican governor are employing extreme tactics to limit the effectiveness of the newly elected Democratic governor. They called a surprise session to pass SB 4 and HB 17. Among other perfidies, these laws limit the jurisdiction of the newly liberal-leaning state supreme court and strip the new governor of powers that the out-going governor has enjoyed, most importantly the power to appoint a majority of election oversight officials in a state where gerrymandering has succeeded in installing a supermajority of Republican legislators who passed voting restrictions that a federal court described as “target[ing] African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
But more fundamentally, the outrageousness of this power grab owes not to the partisan means employed but rather to the ends toward which they are directed. They are designed to limit people’s access to voting booths and to appellate courts, the indispensable means by which citizens of a constitutional democracy can check governmental power. The news from North Carolina is an example, not merely of hyper-partisanship, but of past power-holders clinging to their power with a stranglehold on the future.