OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two high-profile election-related cases on back-to-back days in early October.
The state’s highest court announced the justices will address the state’s voter identification law on Oct. 3 and then the state’s legislative and congressional election maps on Oct. 4.
“In both cases, the court took party-line 4-3 votes to schedule arguments in October. The court’s four Democrats supported speeding up the cases’ timelines to hold October arguments. The three Republican justices dissented. They raised concerns about confusing voters in the middle of an election campaign,” the Carolina Journal reported.
“Neither case will affect this fall’s election. Election maps will not change between now and the Nov. 8 Election Day. Voters will not need to present photo identification to vote in that election,” the report added.
“In light of the great public interest in the subject matter of this case, the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this State, and the need to reach a final resolution on the merits at the earliest possible opportunity, … [t]his case shall be scheduled for oral argument as soon as practicable,” Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat, wrote in the order.
Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote for the three dissenting Republicans.
“Once more, the majority expedites the hearing of a case where no jurisprudential reason supports doing so,” Newby wrote. “Given the impending November elections, expedited hearing in October on this voter ID matter will likely cause voter confusion, … especially when this Court recently entered a decision in another case involving voter ID, N.C. NAACP v. Moore.”
“Additionally, the trial court’s permanent injunction in favor of plaintiffs remains intact,” Newby added. “Expedited consideration, therefore, will not provide plaintiffs any new relief that they do not already enjoy. Accordingly, nothing suggests that expedited hearing is necessary ‘[t]o prevent manifest injustice’ or to protect ‘the public interest.’”
The fight in North Carolina began after the U.S. Supreme Court gave Republican legislative leaders in the state a win over the state’s photo identification voting law.
In an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the three-year-plus dispute over the voter ID law and held that legislative leaders in North Carolina can intervene in the federal case to defend the law.
Earlier this week, the N.C. Supreme Court voted 4-3 and agreed with a central argument the North Carolina NAACP made in its challenge to the constitutional amendments, keeping alive the case against voter ID.
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.
Last 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 last September, two Wake County Superior Court judges held that the law violates the state’s constitution “because it was adopted with a discriminatory purpose.”
S.B. 824 required voters in North Carolina to present a 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.”