It’s costly to defend controversial laws. The Charlotte Observer reported late last week that North Carolina Republican lawmakers have spent more than $10.5 million defending laws about everything from redistricting and voter identification to House Bill 2.
And that price tag will grow as cases work through the appeals process.
Almost half the money – $4.9 million – went to defend the state’s sweeping voter law, which was overturned by a panel of federal judges.
Lawmakers spent another $3.7 million defending redistricting plans that were also overturned. And they’ve spent more than $1.2 million on behalf of HB2, which faces multiple legal challenges.
The Charlotte Observer examines the politics and the reasons behind the legal spending associated with defending some of those GOP laws.
Republicans say the size of their spending is because Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper – who holds a narrow lead in the governor’s race – either disparaged some laws or chose not to defend them.
“Roy Cooper’s refusal to do the job he was elected to do is the main reason the legislature has been forced to hire outside counsel, and he is squarely responsible for the increased costs on taxpayers,” said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Senate GOP Leader Phil Berger.
Cooper declined to defend HB2 and the state’s marriage amendment after an appeals court rejected it, but he has defended two dozen other GOP laws including those involving redistricting and abortion.
And he defended other laws even after he publicly criticized them, such as one allowing magistrates to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriage. GOP lawmakers hired outside counsel to defend the magistrate bill even while Cooper’s attorneys were defending it in court.
“Attorneys with our office routinely defend state laws when challenged, even when Attorney General Cooper disagrees with those laws,” Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley said in a statement. “Our office has defended the state in numerous recent challenges to laws.”
Michael Gerhardt, a specialist in government and law at the UNC law school, told the Charlotte Observer that the amount of money spent was not surprising but could have been spent differently.
“Those of us living in North Carolina know that we don’t have as much money as we used to have,” he said. “That money paid to attorneys didn’t go to schools. That money didn’t go to protect the environment. It didn’t go to a lot of places. But they found it somewhere. And I would describe that as tragic.”