NC Court Relies on “Unitary Executive Branch” Principle to Block Changes to State Board of Elections

In holding that the NC legislature’s post-election changes to the design of the State Board of Elections violates the NC Constitution, see here, the state courts held that the Governor must be able to have effective control over this Board.   Because the Governor, under the law struck down, could only appoint four of the eight Board members and could not remove all eight members, the Governor’s right to control the Board was violated.

The constitutional principle being applied here is a state-constitutional version of the “unitary executive branch” theory of government.  The court first decided a State Board of Elections inherently carries out executive functions primarily. Taking the view that the NC Constitution embodies the unitary executive branch principle (without the court using that language explicitly), the court then held that the Governor must have effective control of such a Board to be able to execute the laws faithfully.

In the federal system, the “unitary executive branch” theory is, politically, most associated in recent years with the administration of George W. Bush.  And this theory is the basis for the current constitutional challenge to the design of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

States can structure their own separation of powers systems differently, of course, from the federal system.  I thought it was interesting to see, though, that the basis for this major election-law decision from the NC courts was the unitary executive branch principle.


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