The High Council ruled Thursday 8-1 that leaders of the North Carolina Republican legislature can step in to advocate for a voter ID law in court that they believe the state’s Democratic Attorney General is not fighting hard enough to defend.
The law was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, but the governor and his attorney general are Democrats, sparking a case that sparks a dispute over what happens when political parties don’t control all branches of state government.
In 2018, voters in North Carolina passed an amendment to the state constitution requiring photo ID to vote in person in the polls. When the state legislature passed a bill specifying how the provision would work, it was contradicted by Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, but the legislature then overruled his veto and enforced the measure.
Writing for the Majority, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch said: On Thursday, state lawmakers were able to defend the law.
“Through the General Assembly, the residents of North Carolina have authorized the leaders of their legislatures to defend duly enacted state statutes from constitutional challenge,” he wrote. “Normally, a federal court should respect that kind of sovereign choice and not gather presumptions against it.”
The state law isn’t one of the country’s more demanding voter identification measures. Classified as “non-strict” by the National Conference of State Legislators, voters who turn up at the polls without ID would be able to cast a preliminary vote, which would be counted if they later presented an eligible ID to the district election board. Another provision says that the vote must be counted if the voter stated that a “reasonable impediment” prevented them from obtaining the required ID.
Nevertheless, the NAACP challenged the law in court, arguing that it deliberately discriminated against black and Latino voters and unnecessarily burdened voting rights. A federal judge agreed and issued an injunction to block enforcement of the law, but a federal appeals court overturned the injunction.
However, the law remains blocked due to orders issued by state courts in separate lawsuits. That case is now before the North Carolina Supreme Court, which has not yet scheduled an argument in court.
State Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein defended the photo ID bill in both federal courts, but Republican lawmakers said his efforts were half-hearted, focusing more on administrative issues than countering the discrimination claims. However, the federal courts said the attorney general did an adequate defense.
That prompted the president of the state’s General Assembly and the president of the state’s Senate to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to let them intervene in the case, arguing that state law explicitly empowered them to change the laws they passed. had agreed to defend. With the Supreme Court ruling, they now have that power.
However, defenders of the photo ID requirement must have primacy in both state and federal courts to enforce the law. Republican legislative leaders can now prosecute the federal case as full participants.