WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Feb. 17, North Carolina Republican legislators submitted their opening brief in a previously decided voting case, Holmes v. Moore, that the North Carolina Supreme Court’s new GOP majority agreed to rehear. In December 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision to block a 2018 law, Senate Bill 824, that provided a narrow list of qualifying photo IDs acceptable for voting in the state, ruling that it violated the state constitution since it was enacted with racially discriminatory intent.
In a highly unprecedented move back in early February, a majority of the North Carolina Supreme Court — which shifted from a Democratic to Republican majority in the 2022 midterm elections — agreed to rehear this case (along with another case, Harper v. Hall, that struck down the state’s congressional and legislative maps) following requests for rehearing from the GOP legislators who lost both of these cases. Notably, rehearing is a rare phenomenon and is typically only granted in extenuating circumstances, such as when a factual or legal matter was overlooked in a case or a change in the law occurred after the case was decided. Indeed, no changes in the facts or the law occurred between the decisions being issued in the two relevant cases and the GOP legislators submitting motions for rehearing, leading many legal experts and laypeople alike to express dismay at the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision to rehear these cases.
In their opening brief submitted last Friday in Holmes v. Moore, the GOP legislators assert that the court’s December 2022 opinion striking down the state’s restrictive photo ID law, S.B. 824, was incorrectly decided and “undermined by several flaws.” In the brief, the legislators argue that “[i]n this Court’s prior decision, the majority erred in finding that the trial court fulfilled its obligation to accord the General Assembly a presumption of good faith.” As with their brief in the other case set for rehearing, the legislators’ main arguments in this brief — namely that S.B. 824 was not enacted with racially discriminatory intent in violation of the state constitution — closely track with the ones they previously submitted the first time the case was before the North Carolina Supreme Court. The GOP legislators specifically assert that “S.B. 824 is one of the most voter-friendly photo voter ID laws in the Nation, and several African American Democrats voted for it in its final form.” In addition to reiterating their previous argument that S.B. 824 was not enacted with racially discriminatory intent, the legislators contend that S.B. 824 did not disparately impact Black voters, writing that the “[p]laintiffs, the trial court, and the majority opinion all fail to identify a single voter of any race who will not be able to vote under S.B. 824.”
In addition to the GOP legislators, the state defendants in the case — including the state of North Carolina and North Carolina State Board of Elections — also submitted an opening brief pertaining to rehearing. Although the state defendants did not sign on to the petition to rehear the case, the North Carolina Supreme Court still asked them to submit a briefing regarding rehearing. In their brief, the state defendants re-assert their prior argument that the “photo voter-ID law is constitutional.”
Ultimately, the GOP legislators’ strategy in Holmes is abundantly clear: to capitalize on the North Carolina Supreme Court’s new conservative majority by making virtually the same arguments that were rejected by the court’s previously liberal majority.
Oral argument on the rehearing is set for March 15.