State Supreme Court will tackle voter ID, redistricting on back-to-back October days
The N.C. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in two high-profile election-related cases on back-to-back days next month. Justices will address the state’s voter identification law on Oct.3, then the state’s legislative and congressional election maps on Oct. 4.
The court posted those hearing dates late Tuesday. In both cases, the court took party-line 4-3 votes to schedule arguments in October. The court’s four Democrats supported speeding up the cases’ timelines to hold October arguments. The three Republican justices dissented. They raised concerns about confusing voters in the middle of an election campaign.
Neither case will affect this fall’s election. Election maps will not change between now and the Nov. 8 Election Day. Voters will not need to present photo identification to vote in that election.
The Holmes v. Moore case addresses the 2018 voter ID law state lawmakers approved to implement a state constitutional amendment. In a separate ruling in August, a split 4-3 court ruled in N.C. NAACP v. Moore that a trial judge might be able to nullify the amendment. That ruling would not have affected the voter ID law itself.
A trial court panel split 2-1 in September 2021 in voting to throw out the voter ID law. In a case tied to the left-of-center Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the trial court’s majority ruled that the ID law was racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. With no action from the Supreme Court, the trial court order already blocked voter ID statewide.
The state Supreme Court agreed in March to bypass the N.C. Court of Appeals and shorten the appeals process. A Sept. 9 order set the case for oral argument in October.
“In light of the great public interest in the subject matter of this case, the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this State, and the need to reach a final resolution on the merits at the earliest possible opportunity, … [t]his case shall be scheduled for oral argument as soon as practicable,” according to the order signed by Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat.
Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote for the three dissenting Republicans. “Once more, the majority expedites the hearing of a case where no jurisprudential reason supports doing so,” Newby wrote. “Given the impending November elections, expedited hearing in October on this voter ID matter will likely cause voter confusion, … especially when this Court recently entered a decision in another case involving voter ID, N.C. NAACP v. Moore.”
“Additionally, the trial court’s permanent injunction in favor of plaintiffs remains intact,” Newby added. “Expedited consideration, therefore, will not provide plaintiffs any new relief that they do not already enjoy. Accordingly, nothing suggests that expedited hearing is necessary ‘[t]o prevent manifest injustice’ or to protect ‘the public interest.’”
Now the Holmes v. Moore case is scheduled for a 1 p.m. hearing on Oct. 3.
Justices will take up Harper v. Hall at 1 p.m. Oct. 4. That’s the redistricting challenge dealing with election maps for state House and Senate races, along with contests for North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
An earlier state Supreme Court ruling confirmed new districts for the 2022 election cycle. But critics continue to challenge the Republican-led General Assembly’s remedial maps for state House and Senate races. Legislators took issue with a court-drawn map for congressional elections.
The state Supreme Court split 4-3, again along party lines, when deciding on July 28 to hear the redistricting arguments in October.
The order signed by Hudson used almost identical language to the voter ID case in explaining the court’s decision to expedite a hearing in the redistricting case.
“In light of the great public interest in the subject matter of this case, the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this State, and the need to reach a final resolution on the merits at the earliest possible opportunity,” Hudson and colleagues allowed a motion from plaintiff Common Cause to speed up the case’s timeline.
Republican Justice Tamara Barringer wrote for the dissenters.
“Plaintiff Common Cause first requests that this Court expedite the hearing and consideration of this matter because it involves a ‘significant public issue implicating substantial rights,.’” Barringer wrote. “However, resolution of this appeal will have no impact on the 2022 elections, and Common Cause fails to identify a single real-world, negative consequence that will occur if this case proceeds in customary fashion.”
“In fact, it is very likely that our consideration of this case in October 2022 — the expedited scenario imposed by the majority — will instead result in considerable voter confusion since early voting for the November 2022 general elections starts on 20 October 2022,” Barringer added. “Nonetheless, for no discernible jurisprudential reason, four Justices on this Court have chosen, without explanation, to allow Common Cause’s motion.”
Barringer took aim at the court’s Democratic majority.
“What is happening in this case cannot go unnoticed,” she wrote. “An alliance of special interest groups, unable to convince a majority of the people’s representatives to pass certain desired legislation, has now resorted to asking this Court to simply write that legislation into our State’s sacred charter — the North Carolina Constitution. It is a feckless attempt to enable a thin majority of our State’s highest court to supersede the will of the millions of citizens who participate in our political and legislative processes.”
“The majority’s decision … lacks any jurisprudential support,” Barringer added. “It reeks of judicial activism and should deeply trouble every citizen of this state.”
Two state Supreme Court seats are up for election in November. Democrats hold both seats now. If Republicans win just one of the two elections, the court’s partisan balance will shift toward the GOP’s favor.
Critics contend that plaintiffs in these election cases have been trying to secure victories from the current state Supreme Court before voters head to the polls.