The US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Thursday in Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP that two Republican state legislators may step in to defend the state’s voter identification law, even though the state’s Democratic attorney general is already doing so.
The North Carolina State Conference for the NAACP sued the state over SB 824, the voter ID law at issue, which requires voters to present photo ID in order to vote. President Pro Tempore of the state Senate Phil Berger and Speaker of the state House Tim Moore attempted to intervene in the litigation. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ultimately denied intervention on the grounds that the state Attorney General was already representing the state’s interest in the litigation.
In an opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) allows the lawmakers to intervene:
Through the General Assembly, the people of North Carolina have authorized the leaders of their legislature to defend duly enacted state statutes against constitutional challenge. Ordinarily, a federal court must respect that kind of sovereign choice, not assemble presumptions against it. Having satisfied the terms of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2), North Carolina’s legislative leaders are entitled to intervene in this litigation.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion. She wrote:
The Court’s decision is wrong for two reasons. First, the Court goes astray by creating a presumption that a State is inadequately represented in federal court unless whomever state law designates as a State’s representative is allowed to intervene, even where the interests that the intervenors seek to represent are identical to those of an existing party. That presumption of inadequacy improperly permits state law, as opposed to federal law, to determine whether an existing party adequately represents a particular interest. Second, the Court errs by implying that the attorney general’s defense of the constitutionality of the voting law at issue here fell below a minimal standard of adequacy.
Tuesday’s ruling did not address the merits of North Carolina’s voter ID law, which will now be decided by a lower court with the Republican lawmakers allowed to intervene in the case.