North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory conceded his bid for reelection on Monday, but Democrats say they’re afraid he is planning a political coup to keep power in conservative hands.
Speculation is growing in the Tar Heel State that Republicans will attempt to add two seats to the state’s Supreme Court next week, tilting the balance toward conservatives.
The court currently has seven members, who are elected to eight-year terms without term limits. With the surprising election of Mike Morgan to the bench last month, Democrats reclaimed a 4-3 edge.
But if state lawmakers vote to increase the Supreme Court roster to nine, McCrory, a Republican, would be able to appoint two justices before he leaves office in January, when Democrat Roy Cooper takes over.
The opportunity for Republicans will arise next week, when the state Legislature meets for a special session to discuss relief for victims of Hurricane Matthew. Once the session is underway, the Legislature can take up unrelated bills, and its Republican, veto-proof majority could introduce a court-packing bill without public input.
State Republicans have not said whether that’s in the works, but some North Carolinians are still fearing the worst.
“The chatter about adding a seat or two to the Supreme Court arose about two minutes after the election,” when it was clear Democrats had won control of the court, Ferrel Guillory, a North Carolina politics expert, told Business Insider.
Local newspapers have urged lawmakers not to meddle with the court. The News and Observer in Raleigh argued that a court-packing bill would be “an abuse of the legislative process,” while The Winston-Salem Journal said it “would subvert the will of the voters.” The Charlotte Observer called the idea “blatantly offensive.”
“It would raise a ruckus, and frankly it would raise some really serious issues about power in Raleigh,” Guillory told Business Insider. “It wouldn’t look like good government. It would look like a power grab.”
The Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP chapter, used similar language at a press conference last month to condemn a court-packing scheme.
“If they attempt this, I want to make it clear, we have already set in motion to turn our lawyers loose … to challenge this power grab,” Barber said.
North Carolina Republicans have used the special session to pass contentious legislation before. In March, lawmakers quickly passed House Bill 2, which limited protections for LGBT residents. McCrory signed the bill into law hours later, and it is now being challenged in federal court.