North Carolina judges struck down a voter ID law on Sept. 17. The panel claimed the policy was “enacted in part for a discriminatory purpose” against African American voters.
Two of three trial judges declared state Senate Bill 824 was illegal despite being designed to implement a photo voter ID mandate, which a referendum passed in accordance with the North Carolina Constitution just weeks earlier. They accused the law of being rushed and discriminating against Black voters. This allegedly violated the right to equal protection according to law.
The bill was passed after a supermajority in the state General Assembly overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto (D) in December 2018. North Carolina voters also approved a constitutional amendment that requires voters to show photo identification. At the time Cooper claimed the bill would disenfranchise minority voters because they are less likely to have the necessary identification.
The judges’s 211-page ruling acknowledges the GOP-backed measure was mostly motivated by party considerations rather than “racial animus.” However, the fact it targets Black voters makes it discriminatory.
“In reaching this conclusion, we do not find that any member of the General Assembly who voted in favor of [the law] harbors any racial animus or hatred towards African American voters,” Superior Court Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier said. “The Republican majority ‘target[ed] voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the majority party. Even if done for partisan ends that constitute[s] racial discrimination.'”
The pair also claimed the law was motivated, at least in part, by an “unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.”
“Other, less restrictive voter ID laws would have sufficed to achieve the legitimate nonracial purposes of implementing the constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, deterring fraud, or enhancing voter confidence,” they said.
Judge Nathaniel Poovey dissented that evidence provided during the three-week trial did not support a conclusion that the state legislature had “acted with racially discriminatory intent.” He stressed the bill was bipartisan and that “multiple African American legislators” had backed it along the way.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which advised plaintiffs on the matter, welcomed the judgment for sending a “strong message that racial discrimination will not be tolerated.”
“Striking down North Carolina’s latest unconstitutional photo voter ID law is a testament to the overwhelming evidence, including compelling stories of disenfranchisement from voters themselves,” co-executive director Allison Riggs said in a statement. “The state’s Republican-controlled legislature undeniably implemented this legislation to maintain its power by targeting voters of color.”
Republicans stress voter ID laws are necessary to increase public confidence in elections and prevent voter fraud. The latest ID rules were enacted with significant Democratic support according to GOP legislative leaders and their attorneys. However, many Democrats still see the mandates as attempts to suppress voters, according to the Associated Press.
An attorney for North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R), one of the defendants in the lawsuit, labeled the decision a “partisan ruling.” Moore vows to appeal the decision.
“Once again, liberal judges have defied the will of North Carolinians on election integrity,” General Counsel Sam Hayes said according to the Washington Post. “Voters of this state have repeatedly supported a voter ID requirement–going so far as to enshrine it in our state constitution … [and] this fight is far from over.”
A 2016 federal appeals court overturned several parts of a 2013 North Carolina law that included a voter ID mandate. The court claimed GOP lawmakers wrote it with “almost surgical precision” to discourage voting by Black residents, who tend to vote for Democrats.