3-judge panel delays law passed by Republicans that takes some power from Governor Roy Cooper

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The 3-judge panel heard arguments Thursday about SB4.

A panel of judges says a law approved by North Carolina Republican lawmakers shifting election oversight powers away from the new Democratic governor won't be enforced until Gov. Roy Cooper's lawsuit challenging those changes is resolved.

Three judges are issuing an injunction that extends a temporary block on carrying out the law that would merge the State Board of Election and the State Ethics Commission. The word came late Thursday from a court administrator writing to the lawyers in the case on behalf of the judges.

The ruling came a few hours after the judges heard oral arguments from attorneys for Cooper and Republican legislative leaders. Cooper argues the legislature went too far in giving lawmakers half of the appointments on the new combined board when it's his job to ensure election laws are faithfully executed.

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Cooper argues the law known as SB4 passed last month to strip him of the authority to oversee elections statewide is unconstitutional. GOP legislators say the law promotes bipartisanship. A temporary hold was put on enforcing the law pending the result of Thursday's hearing.

At the hearing, Cooper attorney Jim Phillips said the law went too far by giving half of the combined panel's positions to the legislative leaders.

But Noah Huffstetler, a lawyer for House and Senate leaders, said the election board always has been independent of the governor.

The law merges the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission and splits appointment powers of the combined board between the governor and legislative leaders. The old law directed Cooper to make all election board appointments.

A different 3-judge panel is also expected to hear arguments Friday on the new law known as HB17. That law takes power from Cooper and the State Board of Education and hands it to the new Republican State Superintendent.

Whoever loses is expected to appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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