The Supreme Court gave Republican legislative leaders and voter ID advocates in North Carolina a win Thursday in a fight over the state’s latest photo identification voting law.
However, the 8-1 ruling does not resolve the long-running dispute about the voter ID law. The law is still in force but has been challenged before in both state and federal courts. The Supreme Court’s ruling just means that the legislative leaders can intervene in the federal case to defend the law. A lower court had ruled the lawmakers’ interests were being adequately represented by the state’s attorney general, Democrat Josh Stein.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote: “Through the General Assembly, the people of North Carolina have authorized the leaders of their legislature to defend duly enacted state statutes against constitutional challenge. Ordinarily, a federal court must respect that kind of sovereign choice, not assemble presumptions against it.”
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Justice Sonia Sotomayor abstained.
In 2018, North Carolina’s voters added a mandate for voter identification to the state constitution. In order to implement the changes, lawmakers passed the legislation in issue. The law requires voters to show a photo ID to vote — a driver’s license, a passport or certain student and local government identifications.
Democratic Governor Roy Cooper opposed the bill, but it was overturned by lawmakers. To stop enforcement of the state NAACP law, several chapters in the local area sued federal courts. They argued that it discriminates against Black voters and Latino voters and violates the U.S. Constitution.
North Carolina’s House speaker, Tim Moore, and Senate leader, Phil Berger — both Republicans — wanted to intervene in the federal case to defend the law alongside lawyers for the state, saying Stein would not adequately fight for the law. A federal judge said no, that lawmakers’ interests were being adequately defended by lawyers in Stein’s agency. Three-judge Federal Appeal Court panel decided in favor of lawmakers. The full federal appels court reversed that decision and ruled 9-6 that legislators should not be permitted to intervene.
Berger was happy with the Supreme Court decision, pointing out that Stein’s and Cooper’s previous resistance to voter identification had led in “intentionally sandbagging” the law’s defense.
“North Carolinians overwhelmingly support voter ID, and they deserve nothing less than the strongest representation from those who would uphold the will of the voters and our constitution, not a tepid defense by an attorney general who has a record of opposing voter ID,”Moore stated this in a press release.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, Nazneen Ahmed, wrote in an email that Stein “has and will continue to vigorously defend state law” and did not formally oppose the legislators’ efforts to join in the defense. In a legal brief to the justices, Stein and other state lawyers wrote that respect needed to be given to the executive branch’s powers to defend the state in court.
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The law was blocked initially by the judge who stated that it was invalid. “impermissibly motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent.”However, the appeals panel consisting of three justices reversed her decision. It was remanded to U.S. District Court where it is still pending.
The law was struck down by judges in state court litigation as it had been influenced by racism. North Carolina’s Supreme Court has said it will take up the case, but no date has been set for oral arguments.
Separately, North Carolina’s highest court has also already heard arguments in a lawsuit over whether the constitutional amendment mandating voter ID should have been allowed on the November 2018 ballot in the first place. The state judge ruled that because the GOP-controlled legislature was elected two years ago from biased districts, the legislators were not authorized to place the proposed amendment or one of its alternatives on the November 2018 ballot. That decision was later overturned on appeal before going to the state’s highest court, where a ruling is pending.
This article was written by The Associated Press
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