Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein have taken steps to withdraw North Carolina’s appeal of a controversial voting rights lawsuit, essentially ending the state’s defense of its voter ID law and related election laws passed in 2013.
“Voting is how people hold their government accountable. I support efforts to guarantee fair and honest elections, but those efforts should not be used as an excuse to make it harder for people to vote,” Stein said in a statement.
It’s unclear what the practical effect of this step will be. Ordinarily, a plaintiff withdrawn from a lawsuit would leave the lower court ruling in place. However, in North Carolina, General Assembly leaders have the ability to defend lawsuits on behalf of the state. It is unclear whether they can or will step into the instance.
The lawsuit involved a 2013 voting law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly. The measure imposed a photo identification requirement to vote, limited the number of days over which early voting could take place and took away the ability to register and vote on the same day during the early voting period.
Along with individual plaintiffs, the NAACP sued to strike down the law, saying that it unfairly harmed minority voters. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, saying last summer that the law’s provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Republican leaders at the General Assembly say they were not trying to discriminate, only to ensure that the election system was secure against potential fraud.
Following the 4th Circuit decision, Cooper, who was then attorney general, refused to defend the measure any longer. That’s when then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, took up the law’s defense.
McCrory lost to Cooper, a Democrat, in November, but before leaving office, he appealed the 4th Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The steps taken by Cooper and Stein Tuesday aim to withdraw that appeal and allow the 4th Circuit ruling to stand.
“It’s time for North Carolina to stop fighting for this unfair, unconstitutional law and work instead to improve equal access for voters,” Cooper said in a statement.