RALEIGH – North Carolina Republicans are hopeful that a move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a Texas voter ID lawsuit will help the state’s chances to prevail before the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Monday, Sessions withdrew partially from a lawsuit challenging a 2011 Texas law requiring voters to provide state-approved identification at the polls. Sessions said the Texas legislature did not intend to discriminate against minority voters, reversing the position of the Obama administration. The Obama Justice Department had made similar arguments about voter ID legislation passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.
Legislative leaders responded by filing a motion urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject efforts last week by Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein to dismiss the appeal of the voter ID case.
“The attorney general’s motion is nothing less than a politically motivated attempt to hijack a certiorari petition in a major Voting Rights Act case, in violation of the plain terms of North Carolina law and the canons of professional ethics,” says the motion, filed on behalf of the General Assembly’s Republican leadership.
Last week Cooper and Stein, both Democrats, told the nation’s highest court that they were abandoning the appeal of a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down the state’s voter ID law and four other provisions of a broad election-reform bill passed in 2013. Those provisions shortened the duration of the early voting period, eliminated same-day registration during early voting, eliminated voting by residents who aren’t in their home precincts, and eliminated an early registration program for teenagers not yet old enough to vote.
The appeals court ruling overturned an opinion by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who had upheld the election law changes.
Cooper’s office also sent a letter discharging outside counsel hired to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Cooper said at the time that the state needed to “make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote, not harder.”
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, likened Cooper’s and Stein’s action to having “the game declared over at the end of the third quarter.” Woodhouse said Sessions’ actions suggest that the federal government will start treating North Carolina like other states in election-related lawsuits.
“Their opposition to voter ID in the Obama Justice Department was heavily determined on the state and its makeup, and in North Carolina’s case, its status as a swing state,” Woodhouse. He also said the courts need to establish that different legislatures look at election laws differently. “The courts so far have made one legislative body superior over another,” he said, noting that the courts wouldn’t allow the GOP-controlled General Assembly in the state reverse action taken by previous Democratic-controlled legislatures.
The motion filed Monday by legislative leaders noted that last year, then-Attorney General Cooper withdrew from the defense of the challenged laws after the 4th Circuit made its ruling.
The motion also notes that North Carolina law authorizes the General Assembly to act on the state’s behalf and hire outside counsel where “the validity or constitutionality of an act of the General Assembly is challenged.” It also said that the General Assembly had hired private counsel to represent its interests throughout the voter ID lawsuit.