RALEIGH — State lawmakers stood in front of the N.C. Department of Justice building Thursday reiterating a growing call for Attorney General Roy Cooper to either resign or represent the state in a fight to reinstate the Voter ID law, which was overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last month.
This is the latest in a line of cases in which Cooper said he would not engage in defending the state in legal action over a state law.
“Can you imagine if I decided that I didn’t like a case and sent my junior attorneys to court and then sent a press release out that said ‘I sure hope my lawyers lose this case?'” said House Speaker Pro Temp Paul Stam (R-Wake) who is a lawyer. “That lawyer wouldn’t have many clients and would face discipline by the state bar. That’s just what Roy Cooper is doing.”
Stam, Rep. David Lewis (R-Guilford) and Sen Buck Newton (R-Wilson) stood in 100-degree heat deriding Cooper and the court’s decision handed down on July 29.
In the decision, the federal judge panel said there was no evidence that lawmakers intended the measure to negatively impact minority communities, but said that it disproportionately impacts their access to polls nonetheless. Rather, the court found that the Voter Identification and Verification Act was an effort to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The court said in its decision, “[O]ur conclusion does not mean, and we do not suggest, that any member of the General Assembly harbored racial hatred or animosity toward any minority group.”
The Voter ID law was pre-cleared before being enacted, in accordance with the VRA, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that pre-clearance was an unconstitutional part of the Civil Rights Act. Polls conducted in May found that approximately 70 percent of N.C. voters support requirements to show photo identification when voting.
“I want to be clear that its offensive to me to think that there are advocacy groups that run around and hire expensive legal teams to try to convince judges that members of the minority population aren’t somehow smart enough or empowered to exercise their own rights, not able to fully engage as active and equal citizens. I completely and totally reject that,” said Rep. David Lewis. “It’s time that we get past looking to call names and assign blame, and start looking at what works for our state and makes sense so that every person understands that their vote counts and that it is important that they engage in the political process.”
Newton, who is a Republican running for Attorney General against Democrat Josh Stein, said that Cooper’s refusal to defend the state in lawsuits amount to a dereliction of duties.
“The rule of law matters, it really does, it matters in this state,” said Newton. “The legislature represents the people and they deserve to have their day in court all the way to the Supreme Court. Cooper shouldn’t be forcing taxpayers to foot the bill to hire private lawyers to do his job. If he doesn’t want to do his job he needs to resign.”
On Monday, Governor McCrory formally requested on behalf of the state that U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts stay the decision until an appeal can run its course. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s similar voter ID law.
Stam called the Fourth Circuit Court decision “ludicrous.”
“The matter is now before the US Supreme Court,” Stam said. “We will see if that court has the willingness to cut through the chaff published by the Fourth Circuit and restore some sanity and predictability to the 2016 election.”
Requests for comment from the attorney general’s office have not been returned as of press time.
“The people of N.C. expect Roy Cooper to do his job. Why should he be held to any different standard that the people of N.C. who are expected to do their jobs? Why should he?” said Newton, “Why is he not doing his job? Could it be because of the donations he receives from the very people who are attacking our voter ID law? Could it be because of the politics of the situation? Absolutely that’s the reason.”