By Mitch Kokai
The N.C. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s voter ID law. The high court’s decision removes the case from the state Court of Appeals and places it on a faster track for final resolution.
Action from the Supreme Court this year could be significant. Democrats hold a 4-3 majority among the court’s justices, but two Democratic seats are up for election in 2022. Had the case followed a standard path through the appellate courts, it’s possible the suit would not have reached the state Supreme Court until after the election.
Republicans outnumber Democrats, 10-5, on the Appeals Court.
A brief order Wednesday confirmed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the voter ID case. In a separate order issued Tuesday, Justice Tamara Barringer denied voter ID critics’ request that she step away from the case. Barringer had served as a state senator when the General Assembly approved the law in 2018.
The request for Supreme Court action arrived Jan. 14 from critics challenging the voter ID law. They had secured a victory at the trial court level. A split 2-1 Superior Court panel had thrown out the law last September.
While defendants proceeded to the Appeals Court, the Jan. 14 request asked Supreme Court justices to skip that intermediate court.
“The facts and the law have been fully developed and carefully analyzed,” wrote attorney Jeffrey Loperfido of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, representing the plaintiffs. “Additional review in the Court of Appeals will result only in further — and detrimental — delay.”
Legislative defendants objected to the Supreme Court stepping into the case at this point.
“Plaintiffs do not hide the reason they want to press fast-forward — a potential ‘reversal of the trial court’s judgment by the Court of Appeals,’” according to a brief from legislators’ attorneys. “This Court should reject Plaintiffs’ transparent attempt to invoke this Court’s extraordinary power to alter the normal appellate review process based on nothing more than ordinary forum shopping.”
“Instead of prejudging what the Court of Appeals will do in assessing the voluminous record and nuanced legal issues presented by this case, this Court should allow the Court of Appeals to give its fulsome consideration of the issues in accordance with standard appellate procedure,” legislative defendants argued.
This case, named Holmes v. Moore, is one of three active lawsuits involving North Carolina and voter identification.
The state Supreme Court already heard oral arguments Feb. 14 in a second case related to voter ID. That case, N.C. NAACP v. Moore, seeks to overturn a 2018 constitutional amendment guaranteeing voter ID. Carolina Journal has documented legal and political maneuvers related to that case at ExtremeInjustice.com.
A third suit challenges North Carolina’s voter ID law in federal court. A trial in that suit had been scheduled for January. It was pushed back when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether Republican legislative leaders will be able to intervene in the federal dispute. Oral arguments at the nation’s highest court are scheduled for March 21.
There is no date yet for a hearing on Holmes v. Moore at the N.C. Supreme Court. There is also no word on when the court might rule in N.C. NAACP v. Moore.