Voter ID lawsuit to NC Supreme Court in accelerated appeal

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to accelerate appeals in a photo voter identification lawsuit by hearing the case without waiting for the Court of Appeals to deliberate first.

In an order Wednesday, the justices granted the request of lawyers for minority voters who successfully sued at the trial-court level to bypass arguments at the intermediate-level appeals court.

In September, a divided panel of three trial judges threw out the state’s latest photo ID law, which was approved by the General Assembly in late 2018, weeks after a photo ID mandate was added to the state constitution. Still, the panel’s majority declared the implementing law unconstitutional, in part because the justices said it intentionally discriminated against Black voters.

Republican legislative leaders who were sued appealed the ruling. They say there was no evidence of racial bias and that the rules ensured ballot access for all registered voters.

The attorneys for the minority voters asked the Supreme Court to take the case now because it addresses substantial legal issues. They also argued that it would help to avoid any delays in the legislature fashioning a voter ID law that complies with the constitution, which it would do if the justices uphold the trial court order.

Attorneys for Republicans wanted the case to work through the Court of Appeals first. They argued that a pending federal lawsuit challenging the same law likely won’t be resolved for at least more than a year, so accelerating the state case isn’t necesssary.

The state Supreme Court didn’t say in Wednesday’s order when oral arguments would be held, but the group providing lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a news release Thursday that it expects them this summer.

The Republicans’ attorneys also argued that the lawsuit plaintiffs simply wanted to move the case to a more favorable forum with the Supreme Court. Four of the seven justices are registered Democrats. Two of the seven seats — both held by Democrats — are on the November statewide ballot. Ten of the 15 Court of Appeals judges, which usually meet in panels of three, are registered Republicans.

Arguments were held before the state Supreme Court in February in another pending case focused on the legality of the constitutional amendment requiring a photo ID to vote.