Supreme Court to decide if North Carolina's GOP lawmakers can defend voter ID law

The Supreme Court said Wednesday it will hear an appeal from the leaders of North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature, who said they should be able to join in in the legal defense of a voter ID law, even though the state attorney general is already defending it in court.

Lower federal courts blocked the effort by the leaders of the state House and Senate to join the case, ruling that the North Carolina attorney general was adequately representing the state's interest in defending the law.

In their appeal, Philip Berger, the state Senate's president pro tem, and Timothy Moore, speaker of the state House, said the rulings below did not show the proper respect for a state's decision about how to defend its laws in court.

That can be a problem "in divided government states where the executive branch may not be enthusiastic about defending the legislature's handiwork," they said.

The voter ID law was passed when the legislature overrode the veto of the state's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. The attorney general, Josh Stein, who is also a Democrat, is nonetheless defending the law against a challenge brought by the NAACP.

The challengers say the law makes it harder for African American and Latino residents to vote. The Republicans say any voter who does not have the proper identification can still cast a provisional ballot that will be counted unless a county elections board determines that the voter gave false reasons for failing to have the proper ID.

The issue before the Supreme Court is limited to whether the legislature can intervene. The justices will not decide the constitutionality of the voter ID law.

The court will hear the case in late February or March and issue a decision by late June.