The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Wednesday reversed a lower court injunction that had blocked a North Carolina law requiring voters to present photo identification.
In 2018 North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment (Art. VI sec. 2(4)) requiring in-person voters to “present photographic identification before voting.” The same year, the outgoing Republican supermajority in the North Carolina legislature overrode the governor’s veto and passed a law implementing the amendment. The law lists 10 forms of valid photo ID and also provides three ways to vote if a resident lacks a qualified ID. The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP filed suit almost immediately, challenging the law on grounds of violating the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, alleging that it was enacted with a racially discriminatory intent.
The plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect, and in December 2019, a judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their case and granted the injunction. However, the district court’s issuance of the injunction was based largely on the history of discriminatory voting legislation in the state, in particular, the 2013 “omnibus” voting law, which the Fourth Circuit struck down in 2016 as discriminating against “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Here, the panel found that the district court’s reliance on the legislature’s past was an abuse of its discretion. The court decided to reverse the injunction because “a legislature’s past acts do not condemn the acts of a later legislature, which we must presume acts in good faith,” and because “the district court improperly disregarded this principle.”
While this decision reverses the injunction issued by the district court, a North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling from February ordering a preliminary injunction still stands, so the law cannot go into effect yet.