WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed two Republican state lawmakers to intervene in a challenge to a contentious 2018 election law that would require voters in North Carolina to show photo identification at the polls.
North Carolina’s election law at the heart of the case increased the number of partisan poll observers, required voter IDs and expanded grounds to challenge a voter’s ballot. But the new requirements weren’t at issue before the Supreme Court, only whether Republican state legislative leaders could take part in the suit to defend them.
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for the 8-1 majority. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a solo dissent.
“Through the General Assembly, the people of North Carolina have authorized the leaders of their legislature to defend duly enacted state statutes against constitutional challenge,” Gorsuch wrote. “Ordinarily, a federal court must respect that kind of sovereign choice, not assemble presumptions against it.”.
State Senate leader Philip Berger and Timothy Moore, the speaker of the North Carolina House, both Republicans, sought to intervene because the law is being defended in federal court by a Democratic attorney general. The decision may help guide similar conflicts in states where the legislative and executive branches are controlled by different parties.
In her dissent, Sotomayor asserted that the law was already being adequately defended by the attorney general.
“In short, the court’s conclusion that state respondents inadequately represented petitioners’ interests is a fiction that the record does not support,” Sotomayor wrote, accusing the majority of “armchair hypothesizing” about the attorney general’s effort.
In March, an 8-1 majority of the Supreme Court allowed Kentucky’s Republican attorney general to step in to defend a state ban on a common abortion procedure. But in that case, Kentucky’s Democratic governor declined to defend the law. In the North Carolina dispute, Democratic officials have continued to defend the new election requirements.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but the Republican-led Legislature overrode his veto.
The North Carolina Conference of the NAACP sued the state to halt enforcement of the law. The NAACP argued the law discriminated against Black and Latino voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
The law remains on hold as litigation continues.
A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the attorney general is adequately defending the law.