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Story highlights

Unprecedented power grab led to chaos, protests in Raleigh

The moves come after Republicans lost governor's race to Democrat Roy Cooper

(CNN) —  

North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill Friday that strips away power from his Democratic successor, Roy Cooper, before Cooper takes office in January.

“This is not democracy. This is an attempt to take over,” said local NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber during a protest Friday at the Capitol in Raleigh. “This whole shenanigans is unconstitutional and out of order. What they are passing there, I believe is invalid. It is a violation of our laws.”

Barber’s voice was at times drowned out by the chants of the hundreds of protesters surrounding him. For a second day, chaos ruled as protesters staged sit-ins, chanted “shame” and “let us in,” and knocked on the doors of the legislative chamber.

Raleigh’s The News & Observer said at least 39 protesters were arrested Friday and 17 more on Thursday. CNN’s calls to General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock were not returned.

The new law, Senate Bill 4, removes state and county election boards from Democratic control, slows legal battles’ path to the state Supreme Court – where a majority of justices were appointed by Democrats – and makes the state Supreme Court elections partisan rather than nonpartisan.

Second bill cuts additional powers

A second piece of legislation, House Bill 17, would block Cooper from appointing any members to the state Board of Education and to the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina system.

It would reduce the number of appointments up to the Cooper administration from 1,500 to 300.

HB17 has been passed and awaits McCrory’s signature.

’A shameful partisan trick’

The American Civil Liberties Union called the bill “a shameful partisan trick.”

“Such significant changes to our state’s elections and judicial systems should never be planned in secret and sprung on the public without advance notice. It’s particularly disgraceful that lawmakers have exploited the victims of Hurricane Matthew for partisan gain,” read the ACLU response.

This week, the Republican-led legislature reconvened to allocate funds for victims of Hurricane Matthew and other natural disasters, but it gave no advance notice of a surprise special session to roll out the controversial laws.

Cooper vows to fight

“Once more, the courts will have to clean up the mess the legislature made,” Cooper said in a statement released Friday.

The Republican power play comes after a bitter governor’s race that saw McCrory wait weeks before conceding that he’d narrowly lost.

“Most people might think that this is a partisan power grab. But this is more ominous,” Cooper said during a press conference on Thursday.

He vowed to fight the GOP’s move in court.

“I will use every tool in the governor’s office to fight for North Carolinians including the courts if necessary. If I believe that laws passed by the legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional they will see me in court,” Cooper said.

Republicans, meanwhile, admitted the new legislation came as a result of Cooper’s victory over McCrory.

“I think, to be candid with you, that you will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch,” Republican Rep. David Lewis told local reporters.

He said that “some of the stuff we’re doing, obviously, if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on.”

CNN calls to McCroy’s and Cooper’s office were not returned.