Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

Justia Summary

North Carolina amended its Constitution to require photographic identification for in-person voting. S.B. 824 was enacted to implement the amendment. In a federal constitutional challenge, the Board of Elections was defended by the state’s attorney general, a former state senator who had opposed an earlier voter identification law. Legislative leaders moved to intervene, arguing that important state interests would not be adequately represented, given the Governor’s opposition to S.B. 824, the Board’s allegiance to the Governor, the Board’s tepid defense of S.B. 824 in state-court proceedings, and the attorney general’s opposition to earlier voter-ID efforts. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the legislative leaders were not entitled to intervene.

The Supreme Court reversed. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) provides that a court must permit anyone to intervene who timely claims an interest in the subject of the action unless existing parties adequately represent that interest. States possess a legitimate interest in the enforcement of their statutes. When a state allocates authority among different officials who do not answer to one another, different interests and perspectives, all important to the administration of state government, may emerge. Federal courts should rarely question that a state’s interests will be practically impaired if its authorized representatives are excluded from participating in federal litigation challenging state law. Permitting participation by lawfully authorized state agents promotes informed federal-court decision-making. North Carolina law explicitly provides that the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate “shall jointly have standing to intervene on behalf of the General Assembly as a party in any judicial proceeding challenging a North Carolina statute” or constitutional provision.