MOREHEAD CITY — Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly plan to overrule or impeach the state’s attorney general following his statements on the recent appellate court ruling overturning a ban on same-sex marriages in Virginia.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who has all but announced his intention to run for governor in 2016, said July 28 that his office would no longer defend in court this state’s voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, called Amendment One. His comments came about two hours after a federal appeals court ruled the similar prohibition in neighboring Virginia as unconstitutional. He said the 4th Circuit Court ruling made it highly likely North Carolina’s ban will be overturned. That court hears appeals from the nine federal district courts, including North Carolina.
Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico and also representing Carteret County, said Thursday the top leadership in both GOP-controlled branches of the legislature are working to remove Mr. Cooper from office.
“Last year in the legislation we passed, was if both the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate come together, come to terms and say that the attorney general is not representing the citizens of North Carolina like they ought to be, then we have set-aside money to hire private counsel to represent us and that’s what’s getting ready to happen,” Mr. Sanderson said.
His comments came during the inaugural meeting of the Morehead-Beaufort Tea Party held upstairs at Floyd’s 1921 Restaurant on Bridges Street. About 16 were in attendance, including a News-Times reporter.
“If he’s not going to defend what we, the citizens of North Carolina, want him to defend, we need to probably impeach him because he’s been a vocal opponent of the marriage amendment ever since it was passed,” Mr. Sanderson said.
The senator said any action against Mr. Cooper would come only after a decision by Senate President Phil Berger, R-Guilford, and House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg. Mr. Tillis is also a candidate vying for Democrat Kay Hagan’s U.S. Senate seat.
“Our leadership hasn’t made the final decision but everything is on ready, set, go if that’s what we want to do,” Mr. Sanderson said.
The News-Times contacted the Attorney General’s Office today but Mr. Cooper was out of the office and unavailable for comment.
Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. The District of Columbia and 19 states now allow same-sex marriages.
Meanwhile, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he will ask the Supreme Court to review the decision. Also a Democrat, Mr. Herring said he too has chosen not to defend his state’s law, but he asked the appeals court to stay its decision, citing risks of unintended consequences if same-sex marriages were to begin there. Mr. Herring’s office said it planned to make its filing seeking a Supreme Court review today.
Mr. Cooper likewise has said his decision didn’t mean same-sex marriages in North Carolina could begin immediately. That would take a judge’s ruling. But since the 4th Circuit also includes North Carolina, he said any federal judge in the state would be bound by the ruling out of Virginia.
On the day of the ruling, Mr. Cooper said further opposition to the four federal lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would be “futile.”
Mr. Cooper said state attorneys had, before the ruling, “vigorously defended” North Carolina’s marriage law, calling it “their job.”
“But today we know our law almost surely will be overturned as well. Simply put, it is time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward, knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court,” Mr. Cooper said.
Mr. Sanderson cast doubt on Mr. Cooper’s efforts and dismissed his position as going against the will of the people and the result of “ulterior” motives.
“He says he’s done his best to defend it. I guess you can take a man at his word, but I know that there are other people that have been watching over his shoulder saying there were things that could have been done that were not done,” Mr. Sanderson said.
He mentioned an organization, the name of which he couldn’t remember, “that’s been in on this with us since the beginning that’s going to take up the reins and carry that. If Attorney General Cooper decides that he’s not going to do it, we have that covered – we’re going to do it ourselves,” Mr. Sanderson said.
The senator told those in attendance at the Tea Party meeting to call Raleigh and voice their support for defending the state’s marriage ban. His audience was receptive.
“He has to defend a state law,” said a woman in attendance.
“This is partisan politics,” said a man at the meeting.
The group’s meeting had begun earlier with a discussion of its “core principals” and there was consensus that “godly changes” were needed in all levels of government and society due to moral decay and “lowered standards.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.