North Carolina court permanently enjoins controversial voter ID law
© WikiMedia (MarkBuckawicki)
North Carolina court permanently enjoins controversial voter ID law

A three-judge panel of the Wake County Superior Court in North Carolina permanently enjoined the state’s controversial voter ID law, holding that it discriminates against Black voters.

The court referred to a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 2016, which found that House Bill 589 (HB589) to be “motivated…by an unconstitutional discriminatory intent to target African American Voters” and that the bill disproportionately burdened Black voters by applying restrictions on valid forms of photo ID by “targeting voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the [GOP].”

Drawing parallels to HB589 and pointing to a study, the court stated that the Senate Bill 824 (SB824) in the current case threatened to disenfranchise several hundred thousand registered voters. According to data compiled in 2013 by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, the types of permissible identification under the bill are overwhelmingly held by Republican voters. The court noted that the Senate was aware of this information and of modifications proposed for the bill, but that no changes were made before the bill was passed.

The court stated that the plaintiffs only needed to show “proof of racially discriminatory intent or purpose” on the part of the defendant representatives to prove that a violation has occurred under the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution. The court clarified that the plaintiffs do not need to prove that discriminatory purpose was “the” main motive for enacting the legislation, but just that it was “a” motivating factor. This includes “‘intentionally targeting a particular race’s access to [voting in elections] because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner.'”

The court traced modern attempts by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature to pass restrictive voter ID laws to a long history of racial discrimination within North Carolina, including North Carolina’s “race-based voter suppression” and the state’s reputation as being “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever”—a point to which the “defendants even concede.”

A case in point was House Bill 351 passed by the legislature in 2011 and vetoed by then Governor Bev Purdue who was concerned that the bill would “unnecessarily and unfairly disenfranchise many eligible and legitimate voters.” The above-noted HB589 was put on hold due to the Shelby County v Holder decision pending before the US Supreme Court in 2013, which ultimately gutted many fundamental protections offered by the Voting Rights Act 1965.

SB824 became law in 2018 after a supermajority of the North Carolina’s legislature overrode a veto by Governor Roy Cooper in what has been called a “lame duck” session. The Republican party was set to lose their supermajority less than a month later. The bill also followed a constitutional amendment requiring voter IDs at elections.