Governor Cooper continues to send conflicting messages about what laws to apply and what laws to ignore. Now he has decided to take on the mantle of law giver and in the process he demeans the respect for the office and himself.
Since early March the governor has ignored the state’s Emergency Management Act requiring consultation with the members of the Council of State in situations requiring emergency executive action such as during hurricanes and now as the state and country respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Carolinians watched in shock as the governor stood silent as rioters destroyed monuments on the State Capitol grounds. Shortly after that incident the governor, unilaterally and illegally, ordered the removal of other monuments to assuage the concern and the threats of the rioters.
Now the governor has decided, without consultation with the legislature or Council of State, to fashion a new restriction on businesses and the public that has no means for enforcement and is constitutionally questionable.
Friday, Governor Cooper announced his decision to maintain, for three more weeks, his “Safe at Home Phase 2” restrictions on businesses. He also announced a requirement that all citizens are to wear face masks while outside of their homes.
Under the governor’s most recent executive order businesses are responsible for assuring that patrons wear masks and if they fail to do so it will result in legal action against the business.
The response to the governor’s mandate generated both surprise and significant push back, most notably from the law enforcement agencies that have stated the governor’s mandate lacks legal precedence and is not enforceable.
Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck released a statement shortly after the governor’s announcement in which he noted: “As a practical matter it would be difficult to enforce the face covering requirements of the Governor’s order based on the way the order is worded and the numerous exceptions present in the order; therefore, my office will not be enforcing the face covering requirements of Executive Order No 147.”
Sheriff Buck does go on to say that private businesses do have the privilege of determining who they will allow into their facilities and under what circumstances. If patrons refuse to meet the criteria established by the business, trespassing warrants can be served. But, as the Sheriff notes, his deputies will not be requiring businesses to meet the governor’s mandate.
The sheriff’s announcement, along with similar responses from other law enforcement entities across the state, exemplifies the lack of respect for both the actions and the office of the governor. While that is very unfortunate it is justifiable.
The governor continues to dictate actions without seeking input or advice from either his Council of State or the very agencies tasked with administering his mandates – in this case law enforcement agencies such as the sheriffs and police departments.
It doesn’t help that the governor failed to administer state laws when it came to protecting state property during the recent riot on the State Capitol grounds or that he has failed to show any support for law enforcement personnel as they’ve been pilloried by the press, politicians and rioters. Now he expects law enforcement, the very people he has dismissed, to give his questionable and poorly worded mandate cover.
These recent actions and inactions exemplify the governor’s hubris about his authority as the state’s chief executive. He now determines which laws to apply, which to ignore and is now taking on the mantle of law maker. None of these actions are within his purview. He, like every citizen of the state, is accountable to the state constitution and its laws.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest yesterday did what has been needed for many months- he challenged the governor’s actions with the threat of a lawsuit. Ironically the lawsuit requires the governor’s approval to hire an outside lawyer since it will also challenge the state attorney general who is responsible for drafting Governor Cooper’s executive orders.
It is doubtful the governor will allow for an outside attorney to pursue the legal action so there is little chance Lt. Gov. Forest’s action will succeed. But his action is worthy of note because it unmasks the governor’s hubris and dismissive attitude about his responsibilities. It is time to hold the governor accountable to his sworn duties to uphold the state’s constitution, apply the laws passed by the legislature and to restrain him from unconstitutional mandates that are harming the state.