North Carolina Party Leaders to Defend Controversial Voting Laws in Court

The partisan battles in North Carolina are extending their reach into the court system.

Over the past year, the Republican controlled legislature, aided by a Republican governor, Pat McCrory, enacted a host of controversial legislation that banned gay marriage and put in place new abortion restrictions. Then last week, they passed new voting laws which MSNBC called “a truly abominable piece of anti-democratic legislation.” The bill was purportedly to prevent fraud, although fraud has not been a huge problem in the state to begin with.

Among other measures, the law puts into place much more stringent voter identification requirements, reduces early voting, ends same day registration for early voting, prohibits extended hours at the polling place in the event of long lines, and does not allow people to vote at a different polling location that previously had been cross checked by authorities to allow for more access to the democratic process.

This partisan wrangling then reached the court system. A lawsuit was already filed by the NAACP, claiming that the new law will disenfranchise 92-year-old Rosanell Eaton who has voted for 70 years.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a second lawsuit which challenges other parts of the voter ID law such as early voting and ‘out-of-precinct’ voting. They claim that the law will cut off voting opportunities for “hundred s of thousands of citizens.” They pointed to similar legislation in Florida which created a disproportionate, undue burden on African American voters and produced long, often unmanageable lines during the general election in 2012.

These lawsuits indicate that the courts will be the next arena to test the legislation. The GOP-controlled legislature did not trust Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to defend their new legislation. Instead, they passed another bill which actually gave the House speaker and Senate leader the power to defend a state statute or the constitution, bypassing the Attorney General all together.

Cooper has publicly criticized the legislation that has recently passed the North Carolina legislative bodies, although he has not refused to defend the state in any case so far. He acknowledged that attorneys often go to court and argue for clients they may not agree or sympathize with, but that “we do have committed attorneys in [the Attorney General’s] office who represent the state in court every day whether or not they think it’s the best public policy. That’s their job. That’s their duty. This office is going to continue to do its duty to defend laws. Nothing has changed.”

Only six other states around the country authorize lawmakers to defend their work with outside attorneys, including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The larger problem in taking away the Attorney General’s right to defend legislation is the blatant way politics are now infiltrating the AG’s office. Cooper appears to be a professional who has claimed that he can proficiently do his job as described by the state: defend laws. However, by removing his ability to do so and placing party leaders in the position, politics extend past the legislature, offering little chance to move beyond the partisan battles that appear to be increasing around both the state of North Carolina and the country.

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