Full NC Supreme Court likely to rehear voter ID case

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  • The full N.C. Supreme Court is likely to rehear the Holmes v. Moore voter ID case on Wednesday. ID critics had asked two Republican justices to recuse themselves.
  • Justice Tamara Barringer officially rejected a recusal request Monday. Justice Phil Berger Jr. is likely to follow suit.
  • The new state Supreme Court, with a 5-2 Republican majority, could overturn the former Democrat-led court's 4-3 party-line ruling against voter ID.

It’s likely that all seven members of North Carolina’s Supreme Court will take part in Wednesday’s rehearing of a case dealing with voter identification.

Justice Tamara Barringer issued an order Monday rejecting a motion for her to recuse herself from the case. Justice Phil Berger Jr. is likely to follow suit.

Plaintiffs in the case, Holmes v. Moore, had filed motions on March 3 asking both Republican justices to remove themselves from the case.

“Justice Barringer’s impartiality may reasonably be questioned for several reasons,” wrote attorneys for the plaintiffs challenging North Carolina’s 2018 voter ID law. “As a North Carolina Senator, Justice Barringer actively participated in the events at issue in this case; repeatedly voted in favor of a law that Plaintiffs-Appellees proved at trial was enacted with unconstitutionally discriminatory intent; witnessed firsthand many of the relevant events that were the subject of proof at trial; and has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts, including relevant facts outside of the record, concerning the legislative process that led to the enactment of the law in question in this case.”

Barringer dismissed the motion seeking her recusal as moot.

“I have concluded that I can and will be fair and impartial in deciding the rehearing” of Holmes v. Moore, Barringer wrote. She noted that she had rejected an “almost identical” motion in the same case over one year ago.

Barringer considered the arguments for recusal, “giving special attention to the possibility, however remote, that any material circumstances may have changed since my previous decision in this case, and it is self-evident that no facts or circumstances of my State Senate service have or even could have changed since I left that office on December 31, 2018.”

While voter ID critics questioned Barringer’s role as a state senator, they targeted Berger because his father serves as the Senate’s top officer. In that role, the older Phil Berger is a named defendant in the case.

Berger Jr. has rejected previous requests for recusal based on his father’s job. He has explained that the older Berger is sued in his official capacity, not as an individual or because of his personal actions.

In a 4-3 ruling issued on Dec. 16, the outgoing state Supreme Court affirmed a trial court decision ruling the voter ID law unconstitutional. That decision fell along party lines, with the high court’s Democrats outvoting their Republican colleagues.

The decision arrived just two weeks before two Republican justices replaced Democrats on the state Supreme Court.

Now with a 5-2 Republican majority, the court agreed in February to rehear Holmes v. Moore. Once the oral argument for the rehearing concludes Wednesday, there is no timetable for a decision from the state’s highest court.

If the court reverses its earlier ruling, voter ID could be reinstated for future N.C. elections.

But action in state court wouldn’t end the legal challenges against voter ID. A federal lawsuit against the 2018 voter ID law remains active in the U.S. District Court’s Middle District. No action has taken place in the federal case since July 2022.