By GARY D. ROBERTSON
Oral arguments over the constitutionality of North Carolina’s photo voter identification law will be held next month, the state Supreme Court has decided in another ruling determined along partisan lines.
In a 4-3 decision, the justices who are registered as Democrats agreed with attorneys for minority voters who had asked the state’s highest court in July to move the case along more quickly.
These voters are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in December 2018 moments after the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a photo ID law. That law has never been administered.
A panel of judges held a trial, and in September 2021 a majority struck down the law, saying it intentionally discriminated against Black voters. Earlier this year, in a similar 4-3 decision, the justices agreed to hear the case, instead of waiting for the intermediate-level Court of Appeals to deliberate first.
The plaintiffs wrote in July that an expedited argument date as soon as September would help state officials and voters “prepare for future elections without the risk of voter confusion and disenfranchisement.”
An order filed Friday and signed by Senior Associate Justice Robin Hudson granted the request, citing “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.” The order said oral arguments would occur either the week of Oct. 3, or no later than Oct. 18.
The scheduling means oral arguments now will occur weeks before elections for two of the seats on the Supreme Court currently held by Democrats. Hudson is retiring and Associate Sam Ervin IV is seeking reelection.
Republicans would retake a majority on the court in January if they win one of the two seats. Any final ruling would have to be issued by year’s end for all seven current justices to participate. The Democratic majority has already has issued consequential rulings this year favoring Democrats and their allies.
Chief Justice Paul Newby, in a dissent that was supported by the other two registered Republicans on the court, wrote Friday that the “majority expedites the hearing of a case where no jurisprudential reason supports doing.”
Newby added that speeding up the matter provides no additional relief to the plaintiffs because a permanent injunction by the trial court panel last year means the law remains unenforceable. That follows with an argument by Republican legislative leaders who were sued and who opposed the expedited scheduling.
A federal lawsuit challenging the same voter ID law is pending and could become moot if the state Supreme Court upholds the state trial court’s decision.
In another 4-3 ruling last month, the state Supreme Court’s Democratic majority said it was possible a constitutional amendment mandating photo ID and approved by voters in November 2018 could be thrown out because state legislators who put it on the ballot were elected from districts tainted by illegal racial bias.