(CN) - North Carolina's governor has the power to make appointments to certain commissions, not the General Assembly, a county court ruled on March 16.
Gov. Patrick L. McCrory filed a legal challenge to the legislature's authority to appoint members of the Coal Ash Commission.
The legislature created the commission to clean up coal ash ponds that were found in 2014 to be spilling into the Dan River.
Supporting McCrory in his lawsuit were two former North Carolina governors, Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Jim Martin.
They sued North Carolina House Speaker Timothy Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Philip Berger.
At issue before the Wake County Superior Court was who had the authority to make commission appointments to the Oil and Gas Commission, the Mining Commission and the Coal Ash Commission.
The governors argued that allowing the legislature to make commission appointments violated the separation of powers in state government.
The legislators countered that North Carolina General Assembly had done business this way for more than a century and that it could vest itself with any power that is not expressly delegated by the state constitution to another branch of government.
The court's unanimous three-judge panel ruled in favor of the governors.
Writing for the panel, Judge Howard Manning Jr. called the legislators' argument that the governor did not properly object and therefore lacked standing "borderline specious."
"It is undisputedly clear that the Legislature was on notice of Gov. McCrory's objections over the separation of powers and appointments issues," Manning wrote. "The Legislature brushed the objections aside like a knife through hot butter."
After discussing the history and purposes of the three commissions, Manning stated that they are "primarily administrative or executive in character, not legislative or judicial."
Therefore, he wrote, the legislative acts creating the commissions are unconstitutional.
"This historic and unanimous ruling respects and restores the separation of powers," McCrory said in a statement reported by The News & Observer newpaper.
Berger and Moore said they would appeal "today's decision that disregards a century of rulings from our state Supreme Court."
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