Report: N.C. AG chides governor for hiring outside attorneys in voter ID case

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 2, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) -- North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper told reporters Tuesday that his office should be representing the state in a lawsuit filed against its new voting law.

According to The News & Observer, Cooper called the outside representation an "unnecessary expense," chiding Gov. Pat McCrory for making the hires.

"Our office continues to have the primary responsibility to defend the state," the attorney general said, according to the newspaper. "Our staff will continue to do that."

On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against North Carolina over portions of its new voting law.

Holder called the law "highly restrictive."

"The North Carolina law includes troubling new restrictions, such as provisions that will significantly reduce early voting days; eliminate same-day registration during early voting; impose a restrictive photo identification requirement for in-person voting; and prohibit the counting of otherwise legitimate provisional ballots that are mistakenly cast in the right county, but in the wrong precinct," Holder said.

"The Justice Department expects to show that the clear and intended effects of these changes would contract the electorate and result in unequal access to participation in the political process on account of race."

The same day, McCrory criticized Holder's decision to file the lawsuit, calling the state's new voter identification requirement "common sense" and that the suit is a "meritless federal overreach."

"I believe if showing a voter ID is good enough and fair enough for our own president in Illinois, then it's good enough for the people in North Carolina," said McCrory, a Republican.

The governor claims the legislation puts North Carolina "in the mainstream" when it comes to voter access and ballot integrity:

- North Carolina will still be one of 32 states and the District of Columbia to offer early voting;

- It will be one of 34 states that requires or will require some form of voter ID;

- It will be one of 37 states that do not allow same-day registration; and

- It will be one of 43 states, along with the District of Columbia, that does not allow underage voters to pre-register.

"I believe that North Carolina is in the mainstream on this issue and it's the Justice Department that's working in the fringes. This new law, which I signed in August, brings us in line with a majority of other states," McCrory said Monday.

The governor also noted that if residents of North Carolina do not have identification, the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles will begin offering free voter identification cards on Jan. 1, 2014.

"I'm very disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to challenge a law that includes provisions such as voter ID as is used in other states throughout our great country," McCrory said.

"This lawsuit will only result in costly legal bills and drawn out legal battles for both state and federal taxpayers."

Bob Stephens, the governor's chief legal counsel, told reporters that Cooper only has himself to blame for the decision to hire outside lawyers.

Stephens pointed to public criticisms made by the attorney general about the law earlier this year, saying his ability to defend the state is in question.

"I was concerned then and I'm concerned today that the comments that he has made (against) this legislation has compromised his ability to represent the state of North Carolina," he said in response.

The DOJ filed its lawsuit against the state, its board of elections and the board's executive director in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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