North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) announced Tuesday he was dropping his state’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court over a 2013 voting bill that a federal appeals court called the most restrictive in the state “since the era of Jim Crow.”
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit struck down a North Carolina bill that required residents to show photo ID at the polls, shortened early voting and eliminated same-day registration. The court ruled that the law intentionally discriminated against African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” With days left in his administration, former Gov. Pat McCrory (R), whom Cooper defeated last year, appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Just last week, lawyers retained by McCrory filed a brief urging the high court to agree to hear the case, and the justices are set to consider the state’s petition at their private conference on March 3. In the lead-up to last November’s election, the Supreme Court denied an emergency request from North Carolina to allow it to enforce the restrictive voting law.
But on Tuesday, Cooper announced that he and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) had notified the court that they’re withdrawing the appeal altogether.
“This morning, the Governor’s General Counsel and Chief Deputy Attorney General jointly sent a letter discharging outside counsel in the case on behalf of the State,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “Also today, the Governor’s Office and the NC Department of Justice formally withdrew the State and Governor’s request for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision.”
“We need to make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote, not harder, and I will not continue to waste time and money appealing this unconstitutional law,” Cooper said. “It’s time for North Carolina to stop fighting for this unfair, unconstitutional law and work instead to improve equal access for voters.”
In a Facebook post, Stein said that the plaintiffs had agreed to waive $12 million in legal fees if the case was dropped.
In an article published in Slate earlier this month, Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor at the University of California, Irvine, observed that Cooper dropping the case would be notable because other courts were already relying on the 4th Circuit’s opinion in the North Carolina case.
It’s not immediately clear what will happen next in the litigation.
Cooper’s statement notes that while his office and the attorney general are giving up the appeal, “the State Board of Elections, its individual members, and its Executive Director will remain in the case for the time being.” Hasen noted on his blog Tuesday that Republicans control both the state Board of Elections and the state legislature, but he was unsure if either could hire its own lawyers for the case.
Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the Board of Elections, said the agency had been informed of the governor’s decision on Tuesday and was still seeking additional information. He said that the board would discuss the case at a planned meeting Wednesday.
Now that the Supreme Court is one member short since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, North Carolina’s move may prevent the justices from delving into an area of law where they’ve been deeply divided in the past.
Republican leaders in the legislature said that the decision by the governor and attorney general to drop the case was illegal.
“Roy Cooper’s and Josh Stein’s desperate and politically-motivated stunt to derail North Carolina’s voter ID law is not only illegal, it also raises serious questions about whether they’ve allowed their own personal and political prejudices and conflicts of interest to cloud their professional judgment. We expect the courts to reject this unethical stunt just as they did when Cooper tried the same trick in the ‘Choose Life’ license tag case,” Phil Berger, the Senate President Pro Tempore, and Tim Moore, the Speaker of the House, said in a joint statement.
In the meantime, the court is expected to rule soon in a pending gerrymandering case where North Carolina stands accused of drawing two congressional districts in a way that dilutes the power of minority voters. And in January, the Supreme Court halted a special election called for the purpose of redrawing 28 legislative districts that a lower court found were illegal.
Cristian Farias contributed reporting.
This story has been updated to include North Carolina Republican leaders’ response.