The nation’s highest court has weighed in on a case related to North Carolina’s voter ID law. The state’s requirement has faced challenges since 2018, but this SCOTUS case decides how those disputes will be heard.
In the case of Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the nation’s highest court ruled 8-1 that lawmakers can intervene to defend the law even when the state’s attorney general is already doing so. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the case, stating “North Carolina has expressly authorized the legislative leaders to defend the State’s practical interests in litigation of this sort.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone dissenter.
The NAACP claimed the law was unconstitutional and goes against Voting Rights laws. But, the Supreme Court heard a case that was more procedural in nature. How will the law be defended on behalf of the state?
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, is already set to defend the law. But Philip Berger, the Republican leader of the North Carolina Senate, and Timothy Moore, the Republican leader of the North Carolina House, attempted to intervene in the NCAAP’s challenge to the law. The two lawmakers believed the Democrat would not fight for the law with the veracity they believe it deserves.
Gorsuch noted that “a presumption of adequate representation is inappropriate when a duly authorized state agent seeks to intervene to defend a state law.”
In fact, North Carolina’s law provided for just such a scenario, Gorsuch pointed out: “State law provides that ‘[t]he Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, as agents of the State, by and through counsel of their choice,’ ‘shall jointly have standing to intervene on behalf of the General Assembly as a party in any judicial proceeding challenging a North Carolina statute or provision of the North Carolina Constitution.’”
“This litigation illustrates how divided state governments sometimes warrant participation by multiple state officials in federal court,” Gorsuch wrote, adding that the legislative leaders were seeking to “give voice” to a different perspective.
Political power shifts in gubernatorial offices and state houses throughout the nation are becoming more common. And this ruling clarifies who can defend a law amid those changes.