) Wednesday The Supreme Court stated that it would hear a case filed by Republican legislators in North Carolina, who want to defend the strict voter ID law. They feel the Democratic state attorney general does not adequately represent their interests.
North Carolina Senate Bill 824 requires a photo ID to vote. The North Carolina State Conference of NAACP immediately challenged it, arguing that the law adversely affects Latino and African American voters.
The dispute raises questions about who can act as an agent of the state to defend a law in a divided government.
The Republican politicians, Philip Berger, the president pro tempore of the state Senate and Timothy Moore, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, seek the right to intervene to defend the law. In court papers, they argued that the case raised issues that were “particularly important in the contexts of divided government and litigation involving controversial topics. “
North Carolina Attorney General Joshua Stein had urged the justices to reject the petition noting that the state is “already actively defending the challenged law. “
A district court ruled against Berger and Moore, holding that they could not show that their interests weren’t being adequately represented. The ruling was reversed by a larger group of judges from the same federal appeals court.
North Carolina has long been the site of pitched legal battles over voting rights. According to Rick Hasen (a professor of law and politics at the University of California Irvine), the Supreme Court will not weigh in on the wider lawsuit’s ballot access questions.
“This case is really about who gets to defend the law,” Hasen said. This is a very common pattern of disputes we see in states where the executive is controlled and the legislative is controlled. So you have a Democratic attorney General, a Democratic governor, and a State Legislature that want to take another position on the state’s voter ID law. The question is: Who gets to defend it?
Voting rights is a common source of these legal disputes between state legislatures and executive branches controlled by opposing parties, but it is not the only policy issue where these disagreements arise. Hasen stated that the way the North Carolina justices deal with the case will determine how these types of disputes are handled in the future.
A similar issue arose in the litigation over a 2013 North Carolina omnibus voter restriction measure, which included a voter ID provision akin to the law being challenged now. An appeals court struck down the law in 2016, concluding that it discriminated against minority voters “with almost surgical precision.” The state was under the then-Gov. Pat McCrory was a Republican who lost that year’s governorship election. He appealed to Supreme Court to have the case heard. McCrory’s successor, Democratic Governor, prevailed. Roy Cooper and the newly-elected Stein sought to withdraw the appeal in February. Months later, the Supreme Court declined a request from the state’s GOP legislators to review the case. Chief Justice John Roberts at the time stressed in a statement that court’s decision not to intervene in that dispute should not be considered an expression of the justices’ views on the merits of the case.
The case is expected to be argued and decided by next June.
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