GOP Supreme Court justices won't recuse in NC voter ID case

The NAACP called for two justices, one a former lawmaker, the other son to a current GOP leader, to stay off the case.

Posted Updated
Election Day, polling places
Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter

A pair of state Supreme Court justices—one a former state legislator, the other son of a key General Assembly leader—won't recuse themselves from a case challenging the state's voter ID law.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit had pressed justices Tamara Barringer and Phil Berger Jr., both Republicans, to stay out of the decision because Barringer voted for the laws targeted by the suit when she was in the Senate and because Berger's father is the Senate's top Republican, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr.

Both justices said in orders sent to lawyers in the lawsuit Friday evening that they will be fair and impartial.

Lawyers for the NAACP had asked the full Supreme Court to force recusal after months of waiting for Barringer and Berger to recuse themselves. The high court said last week it would leave that decision up to the individual judges, paving the way for today's decisions.

This lawsuit is one of three pending that target the state's voter ID law, which would generally require voters to show photo ID at the polls. That law has been stayed by the courts while the cases run their course. This case, NAACP v. Moore, is actually broader, arguing that the legislature's Republican majority in 2018 was elected under maps later found unconstitutional in another lawsuit because Republican lawmakers had gerrymandered the districts.

Because that GOP majority wasn't fairly elected, it shouldn't have been able to start the process that culminated with voters approving a voter ID amendment to the state constitution, the plaintiffs argue. The lawsuit also targets a constitutional cap on the state income tax rate, which voters also lowered during a 2018 referendum.

This "usurper" legislature argument passed muster with Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins in early 2019, but the case is on appeal at the Supreme Court, which is slated to hear arguments February 14.

"After months of thorough and thoughtful deliberation, I have concluded that I can and will be fair and impartial," Barringer wrote in her order Friday, saying 51 of 100 predecessor Supreme Court justices back to 1819 had served in the state legislature first.

Justice Berger said the lawsuit is not against his father, although he is a named defendant, but against the office his father holds.

"My father's name appears in the caption only as a matter of procedure," Berger wrote.

"More than 2.7 million North Carolinians, knowing or at least having information available to them concerning my father's service in the legislature, elected me to consider and resolve significant constitutional questions like the one at issue here," he wrote.


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