Gov. Pat McCrory certainly raised a few eyebrows last week when he decided to hire a private attorney to defend North Carolina against a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit challenging the state’s new voting law.
McCrory hired Republican lawyer Butch Bowers Jr. of Columbia, S.C., a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association who represented Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley against ethics charges. McCrory’s chief legal counsel, Bob Stephens, said the state will pay Bowers $360 an hour for his services.
State law places the responsibility to defend North Carolina against lawsuits squarely on the shoulders of the N.C. attorney general. But N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper – a Democrat – was critical of the voting measure last summer and urged McCrory to veto the legislation enacting the changes. That apparently makes his will to defend the law suspect in the eyes of the Republican McCrory administration.
Stephens said he feels that Cooper’s comments about the voting law “has compromised his ability to represent the state of North Carolina.” But Cooper rightly pointed out that lawyers often defend clients who they don’t agree with, saying there have been a “number of laws that I have disagreed with personally that our staff has defended in court successfully.”
Republican legislative leaders also hired their own private attorney at taxpayers’ expense to defend the voting law after enacting a state law granting them authority to intervene in lawsuits against the state.
The new voting law reduces early voting by a week, eliminates same-day voter registration and includes a stringent photo ID requirement. The federal lawsuit claims the measure intentionally discriminates against minorities and is one of four lawsuits that have been filed against the law.
Legislative leaders and the McCrory administration must have anticipated that these voting changes would be challenged in court long before they were enacted into law. Republican N.C. Senate leaders rushed the voting bill through the legislative process right after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Article 5 of the Voting Rights Act, effectively eliminating the requirement for North Carolina and other Southern states to receive federal approval of voting law changes.
The original legislation started out as a simple bill to require a valid state ID in order to vote, but soon other, more restrictive provision were added. It’s a shame that now state taxpayers will have to pay outside, private attorneys to do the job they are already paying Cooper to do.