A panel of North Carolina judges on Friday struck down the state’s law requiring voters to present photo identification before casting ballots, saying that the measure “was enacted in part for a discriminatory purpose” against African American voters.
The ruling is the latest development in a state battle over voting rights that has drawn national attention, and comes amid a raft of new restrictions by GOP-led state legislatures across the country, as well as an effort in Congress to restore key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The North Carolina measure, known as S.B. 824, was enacted in December 2018 after a supermajority of the state legislature overrode a veto by then-Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. North Carolina voters also approved a ballot measure creating a constitutional requirement that voters present a photo ID. At the time, Cooper had said the law would disenfranchise minority voters, who are less likely to possess the required identification.
In Friday’s majority decision, Superior Court Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier Jr. wrote that the attorneys defending the law failed to prove that it “would have been enacted in its present form if it did not tend to discriminate against 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,” the judges wrote.
They noted that they did not find that any individual lawmaker supporting the voter ID law “harbors any racial animus or hatred towards African American voters,” but rather that the state legislature’s Republican majority targeted those voters because they were more likely to be Democrats.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Nathaniel Poovey wrote that the evidence presented during the three-week trial did not support a finding that the state legislature “acted with racially discriminatory intent.” He noted that the measure was a bipartisan one “that was supported along the way by multiple African American legislators.”
According to the Associated Press, a group of North Carolina voters filed the lawsuit on the same day that Cooper’s veto was overridden. The photo ID law is also the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.
Allison Riggs, co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a group representing the plaintiffs in Friday’s suit, and pro bono counsel Andrew Erhlich said the ruling sends “a strong message that racial discrimination will not be tolerated.”
“Today’s ruling 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, which highlighted how the state’s Republican-controlled legislature undeniably implemented this legislation to maintain its power by targeting voters of color,” they said in a statement.
An attorney for North Carolina state House speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, called the decision a “partisan ruling” and said Moore plans to appeal.
“Once again, liberal judges have defied the will of North Carolinians on election integrity. Voters of this state have repeatedly supported a voter ID requirement – going so far as to enshrine it in our state constitution. . . . This fight is far from over,” said Moore’s general counsel, Sam Hayes.
– – –
The Washington Post’s Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.