The US. Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 that leaders of North Carolina’s Republican legislature can step in to advocate for a voter ID law in court that they believe the state’s Democratic attorney general isn’t fighting hard enough to defend.
Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only one to dissent in the case, which has been closely watched given November’s crucial midterm elections are just months away.
“At the heart of this lawsuit lies a challenge to the constitutionality of a North Carolina election law. But the merits of that dispute are not before us, only an antecedent question of civil procedure: Are two leaders of North Carolina’s state legislature entitled to participate in the case under the terms of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure,” Gorsuch wrote in the opinion.
“Within wide constitutional bounds, States are free to structure themselves as they wish. Often, they choose to
conduct their affairs through a variety of branches, agencies and elected and appointed officials. These constituent pieces sometimes work together to achieve shared goals; other times they reach very different judgments about important policy questions and act accordingly. This diffusion of governmental powers within and across institutions may be an everyday feature of American life. But it can also pose its difficulties when a State’s laws or policies are challenged in federal court,” he added.
The Supreme Court rules 8-1 that GOP lawmakers in North Carolina can intervene in litigation to defend a state voter-ID law. The NAACP is challenging the law, and the NC attorney general (a Democrat) is defending it. GOP legislators want to intervene anyway. SCOTUS says they can.
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) June 23, 2022
The case involved whether Republican lawmakers in North Carolina can intervene to defend the state’s voter ID law from lawsuits.
Republican lawmakers say the state’s Democratic Attorney General John Stein is not properly defending the law from legal challenges brought by the NAACP and other groups who claim it violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
Back in September, a North Carolina three-judge panel blocked the state’s photo voter ID law, ruling that it “was motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.”
The law, S.B. 824, requires voters to present a photo ID in order to vote.
In a 2-1 ruling, two Wake County Superior Court judges held that the law violates the state’s constitution “because it was adopted with a discriminatory purpose.”
“North Carolina’s Voter ID law was enacted with the unconstitutional intent to discriminate against African American voters,” the majority wrote.
The two judges cited a 2015 study by Sen. Van Duyn that found at least 5.9% of registered voters lacked identification and that 9.6% of black voters “lacked acceptable ID” compared to just 4.5% of registered white voters under a previous election bill.
The majority also said the law was discriminatory because “since a greater percentage of Black voters live in poverty, Black voters face greater hurdles to acquiring photo ID.”
S.B. 824 required voters in North Carolina to present photo ID, including driver’s licenses, military IDs, and other forms of identification.
Judge Nathaniel Poovey dissented, claiming “not one scintilla of evidence was introduced during this trial that any legislator acted with racially discriminatory intent.”
Poovey said plaintiffs relied on the “past history of other lawmakers and used an extremely broad brush to paint the 2018 General Assembly with the same toxic paint. The majority opinion, in this case, attempts to weave together the speculations and conjectures that Plaintiffs put forward as circumstantial evidence of discriminatory intent behind Session Law 2018-144.”
Poovey noted that plaintiffs “failed to meet their initial burden” to prove the legislature “acted with a racially discriminatory intent.”