US Supreme Court rules Republicans can defend NC voter ID law in court battle

Voters aren't currently required to present a photo ID at the polls. Republicans hope to give a more forceful defense of a 2018 voter ID law in court.

Posted Updated

Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Republicans could intervene in a legal challenge to a law that state lawmakers approved in 2018 to implement a constitutional amendment that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

The North Carolina NAACP sued to prevent the law’s implementation, arguing that it violated the U.S. Constitution and could unduly deny people the right to vote.

Photo ID for voting isn’t currently required in North Carolina, and Thursday’s ruling from the nation’s highest court doesn’t change how elections are conducted. Rather, it gives Republicans—who alleged that the state’s Democratic attorney general couldn't provide a sufficient defense—the ability to have their defense heard in court as well.
Attorney General Josh Stein, who had opposed earlier efforts to require photo ID when he served in the state Senate, is tasked with defending state laws regardless of personal viewpoints.

Stein said in an interview that his office has "vigorously defended the statute since the case began."

"I've never opposed the participation by the General Assembly," he added. "We welcome their help in defending the state law."

In a Feb. 9 court filing, Stein urged the justices to reaffirm a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
The Supreme Court’s 8-1 ruling was written by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and supported by all but one of his colleagues, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

In her dissent, Sotomayor said Stein had adequately represented the state.

"The Court’s conclusion that state respondents inadequately represented petitioners’ interests is a fiction that the record does not support."

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, who is named in the NAACP’s complaint, said residents deserve a more forceful defense of measures that state lawmakers pass.

"North Carolinians deserve to have their laws vigorously defended in court," Berger said in a statement, adding that he felt opposition to voter ID from Stein and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper "has resulted in them intentionally sandbagging the defense of a law the majority of North Carolinians support."

Stein said voter impersonation is incredibly rare and believes there are better alternatives to photo ID to ensure people are properly voting.

"There are ways that we could ensure that the person who's voting is in fact the name on the list," he said. "What I want to do is make sure that any kind of restriction like that is not burdensome to voters because this is something that happens exceptionally rarely. I just want to make sure that we don't have an unintended consequence of making it hard for thousands of North Carolinians to participate."

By an 11-point margin, voters in 2018 supported the constitutional amendment requiring photo ID at the polls.

Shortly after the 2018 election, lawmakers overrode Cooper's veto of a bill seeking to implement the constitutional amendment.

GOP House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement that he'd "continue to fight to defend the will of the people for voter ID to become law as decided by the voters."

Gorsuch argued in the majority opinion that the case merits a wider range of views defending the law.

"Casting aspersions on no one, this litigation illustrates how divided state governments sometimes warrant participation by multiple state officials in federal court," Gorsuch wrote.

Deborah Maxwell, president of the NC NAACP, said in a news release that she was disappointed with the court's ruling and agrees with Sotomayor's dissent.

"The NC NAACP welcomes the opportunity to vigorously continue our challenge to this discriminatory law," Maxwell wrote. "Indeed, the NC NAACP is no stranger to the long fight for justice and the right to vote. Today, we reaffirm our call to all North Carolinians to stand with us."


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