WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — The Supreme Court Thursday gave Republican legislative leaders in North Carolina a win in the ongoing battle over the state’s latest photo voting law.
The 8-1 ruling did not end a more than three-year voter ID law dispute, which is currently defunct and has been contested in both state and federal court. The decision simply means that Republican legislative leaders can intervene in a federal lawsuit to protect the law. The lower court ruled that lawmakers are already being adequately represented by the state’s Attorney General, Democrat Josh Stein.
Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote that: “Through the General Assembly, the people of North Carolina empowered the leaders of their legislature to defend the state’s duly passed laws against constitutional disputes. Ordinarily, a federal court should respect such a sovereign choice, not raise presumptions against it.”
Judge Sonia Sotomayor disagreed.
North Carolina voters amended the state constitution in 2018 to include a voter ID mandate. Legislators then passed the law in question to implement the change. The law requires voters to present photo identification to vote — whether it be a driver’s license, passport, or certain student and local IDs.
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure, but lawmakers overrode his veto and passed the law. The state NAACP and several local chapters immediately filed suit in federal court seeking a suspension of the law, alleging that it discriminated against black and Hispanic voters in violation of the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger, both Republicans, wanted to intervene in a federal court case to defend the law along with state lawyers, saying Stein would not adequately fight for the law. But a federal judge said no, that lawmakers’ interests are being adequately defended by lawyers from Stein’s agency. A three-judge bench of a federal appeals court ruled in favor of lawmakers before a full federal appeals court overturned the decision, ruling 9-6 that lawmakers should not be allowed to interfere.
As for the law itself, it was initially blocked by the judge in the case, who stated that it was “inadmissibly motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent.” But a three-judge appeals panel overturned her decision and sent it back to the US District Court, where the trial has yet to begin.
In a lawsuit in state court, the judges struck down the law as tainted with racial bias. The North Carolina Supreme Court has said it will hear the case, but no date has yet been set for oral arguments.
In addition, North Carolina’s highest court has also already heard arguments in a lawsuit about whether a constitutional amendment requiring voter identification should be allowed on the ballot in November 2018. A state judge ruled that the GOP-controlled legislature did not have the authority to make an amendment and another amendment to the ballot because lawmakers were elected from racially biased districts two years earlier. This decision was later overturned on appeal before being taken to the state’s highest court.
Associated Press reporter Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report from Raleigh, North Carolina.