Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory suggested Attorney General Roy Cooper should decline his salary after the state's top lawyer refused to further defend North Carolina's voter ID law on appeal.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law last week, saying the requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls and other changes to state election laws discriminate against black voters. Cooper said Tuesday morning that he believes the election should go forward without the ID requirement. McCrory, a Republican, vowed to appeal and criticized Cooper, a Democrat, for not doing his job.
"We think it is the proper law, and it's amazing that the attorney general will not fulfill his oath of office to defend our laws of North Carolina," McCrory said. "In fact, I question whether he should even accept a paycheck from the State of North Carolina anymore because he continues to not do his job."
McCrory and Cooper are running against one another in this year's gubernatorial election, and this is just their latest clash over the handling of legal issues for the state.
Cooper said later Tuesday that not every case needs to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he's defended many state laws over the years, including the voter ID law in both state and federal courts.
"Our attorneys have been working hard to defend many laws that have overreached. This is just another example of a law that's unconstitutional and that's overreaching," he said. "I told the legislature it was a bad idea. I told the governor that he should veto it. We defended it for three years anyway but have gotten to the point now, with this unanimous 4th Circuit opinion, that it's time to stop."
Last week's ruling found that North Carolina lawmakers had unconstitutionally targeted black voters with new voting restrictions such as voter ID, shortening the early in-person voting period and eliminating same-day registration. While the motivation may have been to win elections, the court ruled, the impact was to discriminate.
"A state legislature acting on such a motivation engages in intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act," the court wrote.
North Carolina isn't alone. Over the past two weeks, federal judges in Texas, Wisconsin and North Dakota have thrown out part or all of those states' voting laws. In each case, the judges ruled that efforts to reduce Democratic turnout targeted minority voters.
McCrory dismissed that notion when asked if he was, in fact, planning to defend a discriminatory law.
"It was obviously a very political opinion," he said, pointing out the three judges on the panel were appointed by Democratic presidents. "We ought to allow this to be heard by other courts. The attorney general, by the way, had no problem participating in the appeal when a judge ruled in favor of photo ID. It's only when they rule against photo ID that the attorney general decides not to participate and do his job. So, he's obviously letting his political opinion impact his job as attorney general."
The governor also blamed Cooper for having publicly disagreed with the law.
"His ability to do his job while running for governor is a terrible conflict of interest, based on not just this case but several other cases, because he's out raising money on issues he's supposed to be defending," he said.
The McCrory campaign also used the ruling to raise money – sending a solicitation email out on Friday before the Governor's Office even issued an official response to the ruling.
McCrory and other Republicans have argued that voter ID is needed to ward off voter fraud and have implied that striking down the law will favor Democratic candidates. Cooper said there was "no evidence" of voter ID warding off fraud.
"The court was pretty clear in its ruling – its unanimous ruling – that there was no evidence of fraud and this was discriminatory intent to try to prevent certain people from registering and voting," Cooper said.
McCrory and state Republican leaders have called on Cooper to resign in the past, but Cooper again says he intends to keep doing his job.