Power showdown between Governor Roy Cooper, legislature in court

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A 3-judge panel heard the case Tuesday.

It's a classic, if not contentious, display of the American political system.

The battle between North Carolina's executive and legislative branches was front and center in the courtroom on Tuesday, with attorneys arguing over whether new laws passed last year are unconstitutional.

At stake is House Bill 17, passed late last year by the GOP-controlled General Assembly. HB17 sharply reduces the number of appointees to state government Governor Roy Cooper could make and required all of Cooper's top agency heads to be approved by the Senate, among other executive powers.

RELATED: Judge blocks law stripping Governor-elect Roy Cooper of some powers

A second law, Senate Bill 4, changed how elections are run in the state. The election law removes from Cooper the right to appoint all members of the state elections board, and for Democrats to hold majorities on all county elections panels. Republicans would control elections during even-numbered years, when big races for president, legislature or other major statewide offices are held.

Cooper's attorneys are asking the court to strike down those laws because they contradict the separation of powers.

"The genius of our constitutional republic is compromised," attorney Jim Phillips argued on behalf of Governor Cooper. "The equilibrium of our system of checks and balances is disturbed."

Lawyers for Republicans shot back at the assertion, conceding that this was motivated by partisan politics, but that doesn't violate the state constitution.

RELATED: Judges hear arguments over restricting Cooper's powers

"This is not a separation of powers case," attorney Noah Huffstetler told the panel of three judges. "This is a case about powerful people maneuvering for political gain and political advantage."

The GOP-controlled legislature passed HB17 and SB4 shortly before Cooper took office, and they were signed into law by former Governor Pat McCrory.

Despite legal fight, most of Gov. Cooper's cabinet are already on job.

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