The opinion will make it easier for other government officials to intervene in some cases in lawsuits when the state government is divided.
Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority agreement in an 8-1 court where only Judge Sonia Sotomayor disagreed.
“Through the General Assembly, the people of North Carolina have authorized the leaders of their Legislative Assembly to defend duly adopted statutes against constitutional challenges,” Gorsuch wrote. “Generally, a federal court must respect that kind of sovereign election, not gather presumptions against it.”
Steve Vladeck, CNN’s Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said the decision marked the second time this year that “judges have expanded existing procedural rules to allow Republican state officials to participate in trials where Democratic state officials had already been involved. “
Vladeck added: “These decisions will have particularly significant consequences for states with shared governments, where it is now so much more likely that there will be more parties pretending to speak on behalf of the state.”
In a solo dissent, Sotomayor argued that there was no need for the court to allow the two lawmakers in North Carolina to intervene when government officials were already representing the interests of the state.
“States have the right to structure themselves as they wish and to decide who is to represent their interests in federal litigation,” Sotomayor wrote. “However, state law must not override federal rules of civil procedure by requiring federal courts to allow the intervention of multiple state representatives, all of whom seek to represent the same state interest as an existing state already capable of defending.”
North Carolina Senate Bill 824, passed in 2018, requires a photo ID to vote. The law was immediately challenged by the NAACP’s North Carolina State Conference, which argued that the law disproportionately affects African American and Latino voters.
The two North Carolina GOP legislators – Philip Berger, pro tempore president of the state Senate, and Timothy Moore, president of the state House of Representatives – brought the case, arguing that the Democratic state prosecutor does not adequately represent their interests.
North Carolina Attorney General Joshua Stein had called for the judges to dismiss the petition, noting that the state “already actively defends the contested law.”
A district court had ruled against Berger and Moore and ruled that they could not show that their interests were not adequately represented. A federal appellate court originally ruled in favor of the legislators, but then a larger panel of judges at the same court overturned the ruling.
This story has been updated with additional information.