Supreme Court will hear dispute over GOP legislators' defense of NC voter ID law
Posted November 24, 2021 10:19 a.m. EST
Updated November 24, 2021 6:03 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — The Supreme Court said Wednesday that it will hear a case brought by Republican legislators in North Carolina who are seeking to defend the state's strict voter ID law because they think the Democratic state attorney general is not adequately representing their interests.
North Carolina Senate Bill 824 requires a photo ID to vote. It was immediately challenged by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, which argues that the law disproportionately impacts African American and Latino voters.
The Supreme Court is not planning to take up the issue of N.C.’s voter ID law. The question is whether lawmakers have the right to defend the laws they make, independent of the executive-branch attorney general. The dispute raises questions about who can act as an agent of the state to defend a law in a divided government.
Under the state constitution, the attorney general represents the state in court.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is a Democrat.
Republican politicians Phil Berger, the president pro tempore of the state Senate, and Tim Moore, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, seek the right to intervene to defend the law. They argued in court papers that the case raises issues that are of "particular importance in the context of divided government and litigation involving controversial matters."
Stein had urged the justices to reject the petition noting that the state is "already actively defending the challenged law."
"Attorneys in our office have worked diligently on behalf of the state throughout this case, and will continue to do so," Nazneen Ahmed, a spokesperson for Stein, said in an email to WRAL News on Wednesday.
A district court ruled against Berger and Moore, holding that they could not show that their interests weren't being adequately represented. A federal appeals court initially ruled in favor of the legislators, but then a larger panel of judges on the same court reversed the ruling.
"Attorney General Josh Stein has repeatedly put his political position above the will of the voters and cannot be trusted to defend North Carolina's constitutional voter ID law," Moore said in a statement Wednesday.
"We will mount a vigorous defense of the law on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina,” he added.
The seeds of this case were planted years ago, when GOP lawmakers voted to give themselves legal standing in any case involving a challenge to legislation. It was controversial because who has standing in any given case is usually up to a judge to decide. The actual voter ID case will continue next year, with or without lawmakers involved.
For now, the high court will focus on the Republicans’ argument over standing and the impartiality of an attorney general.
Stein, who is expected to run for governor in 2024, has been particularly careful not to make political statements about issues in cases involving his office, said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College. And Stein maintains that he is adequately representing the Tar Heel state in the voter ID case.
“Josh Stein, if you read the Constitution, is in fact doing his job,” McLennan said.
He added that he was surprised the high court took up the case.
“But they have shown more inclination to take on particularly cases filed on an emergency basis that deal with election law,” McLennan said. “… So I think this is a continuation of the current Supreme Court’s philosophy of dealing with cases quickly and in sometimes trying to make a definitive judgment.”