State Supreme Court splits along party lines to hear voter ID case in October

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  • The N.C. Supreme Court split along party lines, 4-3, in agreeing to hear a challenge against the state's voter ID law in October.
  • Republican dissenters argued that considering the case during the middle of an election campaign could cause voter confusion.

The N.C. Supreme Court has voted 4-3 to hear oral arguments in October in a lawsuit challenging the state’s photo voter identification law. The vote split along party lines, with Democrats supporting the October hearing.

“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, on a date to be determined during arguments scheduled the week of 3 October 2022, or by special setting no later than 18 October 2022,” according to the order signed by Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat.

Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote for the three dissenting Republican justices. “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 state Supreme Court ruled in August that a trial judge should take another look at N.C. NAACP v. Moore, the case challenging the 2018 voter-approved referendum that enshrined voter ID as an amendment to the state constitution. The high court suggested that the trial court could nullify the voter ID amendment and another amendment that lowers the state’s income tax cap.

Friday’s order addresses a separate case, Holmes v. Moore. That suit challenges the law state lawmakers adopted to implement the voter ID constitutional requirement.

With a 2-1 vote, a trial court panel threw out North Carolina’s voter ID law in September 2021. Unless that ruling is overturned, North Carolina cannot move forward with a photo ID requirement.

Voter ID defenders appealed the trial court’s ruling to the N.C. Court of Appeals, but ID critics then asked the state Supreme Court to intervene.

Legislative leaders accused ID opponents of “forum shopping” based on the contrasting partisan compositions of the two appellate courts. Republicans outnumber Democrats, 10-5, on the Appeals Court. Democrats outnumber Republicans, 4-3, on the state Supreme Court. Two Supreme Court seats now held by Democrats are up for grabs in the November election.

The state’s highest court agreed on March 2 to take the voter ID case. The latest order responded to a July 11 request from plaintiffs to expedite the case.