Politics

North Carolina judges block voter ID law, saying it discriminates against Black people

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Key Points
  • A panel of North Carolina judges in a split decision blocked the state's voter ID law, saying it discriminates against Black people.
  • The majority of the three-judge panel said in its opinion that evidence shows the 2018 law "was enacted in part for a discriminatory purpose, and would not have been enacted in its current form but for its tendency to discriminate against African American voters."
  • North Carolina's voter identification law was enacted in late 2018 when the state legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
North Carolina State University students wait in line to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards.
Sara D. Davis | Getty Images

A panel of North Carolina judges in a split decision Friday blocked the state's voter ID law, saying it discriminates against Black people.

Two judges on the panel said in their majority opinion that evidence shows the law, which requires voters to present a photo identification to cast a ballot, "was enacted in part for a discriminatory purpose."

The decision in Wake County Superior Court also said that the law "would not have been enacted in its current form but for its tendency to discriminate against African American voters."

The ruling cited a 2015 analysis by a political scientist which showed that hundreds of thousands of registered voters in North Carolina potentially lacked ID that would qualify them to cast ballots under the law.

That analysis found that 9.6% of Black "registered voters lacked acceptable ID" for voting under a prior voter ID bill, "as compared with 4.5% of white registered voters."

The majority decision noted that because Black people in North Carolina are more much likely to live in poverty than white people, they thus are also more likely to "face greater hurdles to acquiring photo ID" as a result of not having a car or being able to get time off from work to do so.

North Carolina's voter identification law was enacted in late 2018 when a supermajority of the state General Assembly overrode a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

The law said that valid forms of ID included a state driver's license, a U.S. passport and a state-issued voter ID.

Passage of the bill came weeks after North Carolina voters voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that would require identification to be presented when voting and less than a month before Republicans were set to lose their supermajority in the General Assembly.

Judges Michael O'Foghludha and Vince Rozier Jr. wrote the majority decision Friday, which came after a trial earlier this year.

They noted that the ID law "is the only legislation implementing a constitutional amendment ever to be enacted in a post-election lame duck session in North Carolina" and that it was passed after another court ruling had ordered "racially gerrymandered" legislative districts that favored Republicans to be redrawn.

That "suggests that Republicans wanted to entrench themselves by passing their preferred, and more restrictive, version of a voter ID law," the majority wrote.

Judge Nathaniel Poovey dissented from the decision, writing that "not one scintilla of evidence was introduced during this trial that any legislator acted with racially discriminatory intent."

"The majority opinion in this case attempts to weave together the speculations and conjectures that Plaintiffs put forward as circumstantial evidence of discriminatory intent behind Session Law 2018-144," Poovey wrote.