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GOP Can Defend North Carolina Voter Law, Supreme Court Says (1)

June 23, 2022, 2:04 PMUpdated: June 23, 2022, 2:15 PM

The Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly can step into defend the state’s voter identification law even though the state’s Democratic attorney general is already doing so, the US Supreme Court said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for an 8-1 court on Thursday agreed with North Carolina Senate leader Philip Berger and House Speaker Timothy Moore that the state Assembly had an interest in defending the law, particularly given the politically divisive nature of the legislation.

The 2018 voter law was passed over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, and challenged by the NAACP in federal court, saying it disproportionately harms Black and Latino voters. The litigation was stayed pending the Supreme Court ruling on the procedural question.

Gorsuch emphasized that North Carolina law specifically allows their legislative leaders to defend statutes against constitutional challenges. “Within wide constitutional bounds, States are free to structure themselves as they wish,” he said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a lone dissent that states are free to determine which representatives can defend their laws in court, but said those laws can’t override federal rules that allow for intervention only where there isn’t another state official defending the statute.

The case is one of several procedural disputes this term seeking to sort out who can sue or be sued over controversial laws, including litigation over the unique abortion law in Texas, SB 8.

The case is Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, U.S., No. 21-248.

(Updates with quotes from the opinion.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com