The Republican-led General Assembly passed House Bill 239 Tuesday, a measure to reduce the size of the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 seats.
That would take away Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's chance to fill vacancies created by mandatory retirements and resignations.
GOP Senator Warren Daniel told his chamber the legislation makes sense because of the appeals court's workload.
Court of Appeals filings for 2015-16 hit 2,183, a 16 percent decrease from 2011-12, according to Daniel.
Democrats, on the other hand, say the move is a pure power grab, shifting balance on the court toward Republicans.
"And we all know that this is being done for partisan reasons because we have a judge that's getting ready to retire in May and we're trying to beat a deadline," said Darren Jackson, a Democrat from Wake County and the House Minority Leader.
While Governor Cooper is likely to veto the bill, Republicans hold a two-thirds majority in the legislature and could override the veto even if all Democrats in the House and Senate side with the governor.