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Supreme Court says Republicans in North Carolina can defend photo ID law in court

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Thursday that leaders of North Carolina’s Republican legislature can step in to argue for voter ID legislation before the court they believe the Democratic attorney general of the State is not fighting hard enough to defend.

The law was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, but the governor and his attorney general are Democrats, leading to a case that features a dispute over what happens when political parties don’t control all of the branches of state government.

In 2018, voters in North Carolina approved an amendment to the state constitution requiring photo ID to vote in person at the polls. When the state legislature passed legislation to clarify how the provision would work, Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed it, but the legislature later overruled his veto and enacted the measure.

Writing for the Majority, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch said Thursday that state lawmakers could uphold the law.

“Through the General Assembly, the people of North Carolina have authorized the leaders of their legislature to defend the duly enacted laws of the state against constitutional challenge,” he wrote. “Normally, a federal court should respect this kind of sovereign choice, not assemble presumptions against it.”

The state law is not one of the most demanding voter ID measures in the country. Classified as “non-strict” by the National Conference of State Legislatures, it would allow voters who show up to the polls without ID to vote provisionally, which would be counted if they later present eligible ID to the council of the election county. Another provision states that the ballot must be counted if the voter has declared that a “reasonable obstacle” prevented them from obtaining the required identification.

Nonetheless, the NAACP challenged the law in court, arguing that it intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters and unduly burdened the franchise. A federal judge agreed and issued an injunction to block enforcement, but a federal appeals court lifted the injunction.

The law, however, remains stalled due to orders issued by state courts in separate disputes. That case is now before the North Carolina Supreme Court, which has not yet scheduled oral argument.

Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein defended the photo ID law in both federal courts, but Republican lawmakers said his efforts were half-hearted, more concerned with administrative issues than fighting against allegations of discrimination. Federal courts, however, have said the attorney general is doing an adequate job of presenting a defense.

This prompted the Speaker of the State General Assembly and the Acting President of the State Senate to ask the United States Supreme Court to let them intervene in the case, arguing that the law of the The state explicitly gave them the power to defend the laws they had passed. With the High Court ruling, they now have that power.

However, advocates of the state photo ID requirement will have to prevail in state and federal courts for the law to be enforced. Republican legislative leaders can now pursue the federal case as full participants.

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