Republicans won several victories at the Supreme Court this week, including one related to states’ rights, election integrity, and voter ID laws.
The high court ruled 8-1 that two Republican legislators in North Carolina had the right to intervene in a federal lawsuit in defense of the state’s voter ID law that had been challenged, the Conservative Brief reported.
Those GOP lawmakers had sought to intervene after it became clear to them that North Carolina’s Democratic attorney general was not sufficiently fighting to defend the challenged voter ID law passed by Republicans in state or federal court.
Notably, the Supreme Court’s decision here did not address the merits of the arguments for or against the voter ID law in question but merely settled the dispute over whether the two state legislators were legally permitted to intervene in that separate case.
Democratic officials decline to “adequately” defend the GOP-passed voter ID law
SCOTUSblog reported that North Carolina’s GOP-controlled state legislature had passed a bill in 2018 that required all voters to display a photo ID when voting in person, and provided for every county in the state to provide such an ID for free to any state resident.
That measure was vetoed by North Carolina’s Democratic governor, but the legislature overrode the veto and the bill became law over the governor’s objections. That is when North Carolina’s branch of the NAACP filed suit against the law on claims that it violated certain constitutional rights as well as provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Enter North Carolina’s Senate Leader Philip Berger and House Speaker Timothy Moore, both Republicans, who sought to intervene in the lawsuit on account of their view that the law was being inadequately defended by the Democratic attorney general — a former state senator who had voted against a previous iteration of the law — as well as the state’s Board of Elections, which was aligned with the Democratic governor.
That request to intervene was dismissed by a district court, then granted by a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, then reversed again during an en banc hearing of the entire circuit court, which led to the question of intervention being taken up by the Supreme Court on appeal.
Lawmakers are authorized to intervene to defend state law
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the 8-1 decision and ultimately held that “North Carolina’s legislative leaders are entitled to intervene in this litigation.”
Gorsuch first looked at the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2), which deals with permitting parties to intervene in litigation, and paid particular attention to the third provision of that rule, which states “unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.”
As previously noted, the two GOP legislators had argued that the “existing parties” in the suit, the attorney general and the board, had failed to “adequately represent” the state’s interest in defending the voter ID law, and Gorsuch appeared to agree.
He also looked at a specific state statute that explicitly authorizes legislative leaders to intervene in lawsuits on behalf of the General Assembly and the state in certain matters and again agreed that the pair of Republican lawmakers had a right, both at the federal and state level, to intervene in the suit and mount a defense of the voter ID law that, by and large, had been left relatively undefended by the attorney general and board.