Legislative leaders, A.G. Stein defend voter ID law at N.C. Appeals Court
Legislative defendants and the N.C. Department of Justice are defending North Carolina’s voter ID law before the N.C. Court of Appeals.
Two separate briefs supporting the 2018 law arrived Monday at the Appeals Court. Meanwhile, ID critics continue to push to have the case moved to the N.C. Supreme Court.
A split three-judge Superior Court panel ruled against the ID law in September 2021. Two Democratic judges agreed to block the voter ID requirement. A Republican judge dissented.
Lawmakers enacted the voter ID law in December 2018, shortly after voters approved adding an ID requirement to the state Constitution. The constitutional amendment for voter ID passed with 55% of the vote.
“This State’s Constitution provides that ‘[v]oters offering to vote in person shall present photographic identification before voting’ and that the General Assembly ‘shall enact general laws governing the requirements of such photographic identification, which may include exceptions,'” according to a brief from attorney Nicole Moss, representing legislative leaders. “The General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 824 … to implement this mandate.”
“Two judges on a divided three-judge Superior Court panel have now permanently enjoined S.B. 824 as a violation of North Carolina’s Equal Protection Clause,” the legislators’ brief added. “But they could do so only by failing to honor the presumption of legislative good faith and by implausibly concluding that a General Assembly bent on entrenching itself through a racially targeted voter-ID law would pass a law that does not prevent anyone from voting and do so with the support of several members of the party allegedly targeted.”
“Plaintiffs’ theory of the case does not make sense, and nothing in the Superior Court majority’s one-hundred-page opinion salvages it,” Moss wrote.
In a separate brief, lawyers working for N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein also defended the voter ID law.
“It was Plaintiffs’ contention that by passing S.B. 824, the Republican majority of our legislature attempted to disenfranchise African Americans,
who historically support Democratic candidates, as a mechanism to entrench itself politically,” according to the brief from Special Deputy Attorney General Terence Steed. “The majority of the three-judge panel in this case agreed and concluded that ‘the enactment of S.B. 824 was motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.’ This conclusion was erroneous.”
“Throughout the majority’s analysis, it failed to adhere to the legislative presumption of good faith, shifted the burden of proof to Defendants, relied too heavily upon historical evidence, including North Carolina’s prior  voter-ID law, and did not adequately support its factual findings with competent evidence,” Steed’s brief added.
Voter ID critics will have a chance to respond to the argument in their own court filing to the Appeals Court. In the meantime, those critics have asked the Supreme Court to step in and take over the case.
Opponents of the ID requirement filed paperwork Jan. 14 asking the state’s highest court to take over the case. At the same time, ID critics asked for the disqualification of Republican Justice Tamara Barringer. She served as a state senator when the General Assembly approved the voter ID law.
Defenders of the ID law have accused ID opponents of “forum shopping.” After winning the case with a party-line Democratic 2-1 vote at the Superior Court level, ID critics hope to move the case to a Supreme Court with a 4-3 Democratic majority. By contrast, Republicans outnumber Democrats 10-5 on the Appeals Court.
“Plaintiffs do not hide the reason they want to press fast-forward — a potential ‘reversal of the trial court’s judgment by the Court of Appeals,’” according to legislative leaders’ court documents.
A Jan. 28 court filing requested an “expedited review” of the request to have the case moved. The Supreme Court has not yet responded to that request.