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Supreme Court rules on part of North Carolina's voter ID case

Will Doran, The News & Observer on

Published in Political News

RALEIGH, N.C. — The constitutionality of North Carolina’s voter ID law is still up in the air — but on Thursday, Republican lawmakers won a related legal fight at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices didn’t rule on the voter ID case itself. But they did rule that GOP leaders can intervene in the case as defendants.

That may sound like just a procedural update, but it’s important for two reasons.

For one, it gives Republicans lawmakers permission to hire outside lawyers to defend the state, instead of continuing to use lawyers from the North Carolina Department of Justice under Attorney General Josh Stein. That gives them more control over the arguments and legal strategy.

Even though Stein’s office has been winning the case so far, Republicans have said his lawyers can’t be trusted. Other Democratic politicians have said the voter ID law is racially discriminatory and should be overturned.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers North Carolina, had denied lawmakers’ request to intervene in the case. They noted that Stein’s office won the argument in front of them when they heard it and said the GOP couldn’t point to anything he had done wrong in winning the case for them. On Thursday, the Supreme Court overturned that Court of Appeals ruling.

 

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore celebrated the news in a press release.

“North Carolinians overwhelmingly support voter ID, and they deserve nothing less than the strongest representation from those who would uphold the will of the voters and our constitution, not a tepid defense by an attorney general who has a record of opposing voter ID,” Moore said.

The decision doesn’t mean Stein’s office is kicked off the case. He’s still defending the North Carolina State Board of Elections, who are the main defendants. But Republican legislators can now hire their own lawyers and craft their own legal strategy, in addition to the case made by Stein and the elections officials.

Republican lawmakers also had a second reason to want to intervene: They’re now allowed to block any potential settlement agreement that might otherwise have ended the lawsuit.

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