- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Republican legislative leaders want the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the new Democratic state attorney general’s bid to dismiss their appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a voting law based on racial bias.

Lawyers the General Assembly hired to defend the 2013 law approved by the GOP objected Monday to Attorney General Josh Stein’s petition last week and want the justices to continue considering their previously filed appeal.

They say Stein lacks authority to step in because previous Attorney General Roy Cooper stopped defending the law last summer after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit found the law targeted minority voters. The legislature’s private lawyers continued the appeal.

The measure required photo identification to vote in person, reduced the number of early voting days and eliminated same-day registration during the early-voting period. Republicans said the changes were designed to improve public confidence in elections and weren’t racially discriminatory.

Another state law allows legislative leaders to hire their own attorneys to defend challenged laws, the lawyers wrote in their formal objection filed with the justices.

The legislators’ lawyers also said Stein has a conflict of interest that should disqualify him from representing the state because he testified against the law at trial while a state senator. Stein was elected attorney general in November and took office Jan. 1.

Stein’s “motion is nothing less than a politically-motivated attempt to hijack a … petition in a major Voting Rights Act case, in violation of the plain terms of North Carolina law and the canons of professional ethics,” said the objection, signed by Washington-based attorney Kyle Duncan.

Laura Brewer, a spokeswoman for Stein’s Department of Justice, said in an email Stein “disagrees with the arguments and believes they are without merit. We will wait for further direction from the Supreme Court.”

Cooper and Stein announced last week their decision to withdraw from the state’s petition for a high court review.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who signed the 2013 voting law, also had sought the Supreme Court appeal. Stein is free to withdraw Cooper - McCrory’s successor - from the case, but lacks authority to withdraw the state, Duncan wrote.

The legislators’ attorneys also complained Monday that the plaintiffs in the case have asked for the dismissal without including the wishes of the U.S. government, which also sued over the law. The U.S. Justice Department said Monday it was abandoning its opposition to a portion of Texas’ voter ID law - a decision that reflects the changes in presidential administrations. President Barack Obama’s Justice Department has long fought the law in court.

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