By GARY D. ROBERTSON
RALEIGH (AP) – North Carolina judges on Friday struck down the state’s latest voter identification law on Friday, agreeing with minority voters that Republicans had adopted racially biased rules as a way to stay in power.
Two of the three trial judges said the December 2018 law was unconstitutional, even though it was designed to implement a voter identification warrant with photo added to the North Carolina Constitution during a referendum a few weeks earlier. They said the law was rushed and intentionally discriminated against black voters, violating their equal protections.
The law “was motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intention to target African-American voters,” wrote Superior Court justices Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier in their 102-page order.
“Other, less restrictive voter identification laws would have been sufficient to achieve the legitimate non-racial objectives of implementing the constitutional amendment requiring voter identification, deterring fraud or enhancing voter confidence,” added the judges.
The majority decision, which followed a three-week trial in April, will be appealed, Republicans told the legislature. A state appeals court previously blocked law enforcement last year. The law remains inapplicable with this decision.
With a similar trial in federal court due in January and another trial in state court currently on appeal, it seems more unlikely that the current voter identification law will be enforced in the 2022 election.
Allison Riggs, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, welcomed the decision. Riggs said the ruling reflects “how the Republican-controlled state legislature has unmistakably implemented this legislation to maintain its power by targeting voters of color.”
Republicans said voter identification laws were needed to boost public confidence in elections and prevent voter fraud, which remains rare nationwide. Many Democrats see the mandates as attempts to suppress voters.
In July 2016, a federal appeals court struck down several parts of a 2013 North Carolina law that included a voter identification warrant, saying GOP lawmakers wrote them with “almost surgical precision.” to discourage voting by black residents, who tend to support Democrats.
Lawyers for voters who sued the 2018 law said it suffered from racial flaws similar to those in the 2013 law – following a long effort by North Carolina officials to weaken the African-American vote in order to retain control of the General Assembly. The 2013 law was briefly applied in the 2016 primary elections.
GOP legislative leaders and their lawyers disagreed, saying the latest ID rules were approved with notable democratic support and improved to retain access to ballots while ensuring that only citizens legal can vote.
The categories of eligible identity documents have been significantly broadened compared to the 2013 law to include the identification documents of students and government employees. Free ID has also been made available, and people without ID can still vote if they fill out a form.
Sam Hayes, attorney for Speaker of the House Tim Moore, said “Liberal judges defied North Carolina’s will for electoral integrity” with the ruling. Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger are among the defendants in the lawsuit.
“Photo identity laws are designed to build confidence in elections. Calling this law irreparably racist does the exact opposite, ”said Senator Paul Newton of Cabarrus County.
In the dissenting opinion, Judge Nathaniel Poovey wrote that there was “not the slightest evidence” presented that a lawmaker had acted with intent to racially discriminate.
The plaintiffs’ evidence was “largely based on the past history of other lawmakers and used an extremely large brush to paint the 2018 General Assembly with the same toxic paint,” Poovey wrote.
But the majority of the panel wrote that even though they could not find any lawmakers harboring racial animosity towards black voters, Republicans were targeting voters “who, on the basis of race, were unlikely to vote for the vote. majority party, “as the Federal Court also ruled in 2016.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about three dozen states have laws requiring or requiring voters to present ID at polling stations, and about half want photo ID only.
Six voters – five black and one biracial – sued in Wake County court on the same day, GOP lawmakers overturned Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s veto on the 2018 voter identification bill.
Some plaintiffs testified at trial about difficulties obtaining ID or voting when the old photo ID law was in effect. GOP lawyers said all voters would continue to be able to vote under the 2018 law.
The plaintiffs’ case highlighted the state’s history of discriminatory election laws, as well as an analysis by a University of Michigan professor who said black voters are 39% more likely not to have qualified photo ID as registered white voters. The analysis, however, omitted data on some categories of eligible IDs.
Changes to these and other voting procedures in North Carolina once required prior approval from the federal government. But a 2013 US Supreme Court ruling meant that such “preclearance” actions were no longer necessary. The 2013 Voter Identification Act was approved shortly after this decision.