This month both Texas and Wisconsin voter ID laws were partially struck down, now an appeals court has found North Carolina's GOP-created voter suppression law (and I know I keep calling it that for a reason) really actually is a voter suppression law and is unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel of the U.S Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has found North Carolina's controversial GOP-backed voting restrictions were intended to discriminate against African American voters.
The Friday ruling is a huge win for voting rights activists in a closely watched case in a potential 2016 swing state. The appeals court reversed the ruling of a district court siding with the state.
"In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with
discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees," the opinion said.
In the opinion, the panel of judges said that the law restricted voting in ways that "disproportionately affected African Americans" and that its provisions targeted "African Americans with almost surgical precision." It said the state's defense of the law was "meager."
"Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the state’s true motivation," the opinion said.
It noted that the legislation was passed as African American voter turnout had expanded to almost the rates of whites, and that the legislature enacted the legislation after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, which had required North Carolina to seek federal approval for changes to its voting policies. The appeals court -- citing a lower court's findings -- pointed out that state lawmakers sought data breaking down voting practices by race. The judges said that the law's provisions singled out the practices disproportionately popular among African Americans, such as preregisteration and provisional voting.
"The district court found that not only did SL 2013-381 eliminate or restrict these voting mechanisms used disproportionately by African Americans, and require IDs that African Americans disproportionately lacked, but also that African Americans were more likely to 'experience socioeconomic factors that may hinder their political participation,'" the opinion said.
In other words the court affirms everything I've been saying about GOP voter suppression laws over the years, chiefly that Republicans use them to limit black and Latino voter turnout as much as possible in order to hurt Democrats.
Finally, finally we have a court stating the obvious.
For example, the circuit-court decision makes much of the fact that legislators requested relevant data before passing the bill.
“Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans,” Motz wrote. “Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.”
For example, the voter-ID law was both “too restrictive and not restrictive enough.” The circuit court found that the law harmed African American participation, but did little to combat fraud, the stated purpose, because fraud was more common in mail-in absentee voting, which was not affected.
Again, the 4th Circuit found that this was deliberate racism on the part of North Carolina Republicans, designed specifically to limit black turnout. Practices like analyzing voter data to see that black voters took advantage of the first week of early voting in the state, and then Republicans specifically eliminating the first week of early voting. This isn't something that was being done in the state's dark past or during Jim Crow, this happened two years ago after Republicans took over the state in 2010 in the backlash against a black president winning the state in 2008.
Republicans tried to make sure that North Carolina would never go blue again. They were caught.
Where this goes now is still up in the air. I'm sure Pat McCrory would like to see the Supreme Court step in and put the 4th Circuit's order on hold until after November's election, and that could very well happen.
We'll see in the weeks and months ahead, but let's not lose sight here of the sheer scope of this ruling, that Republicans in North Carolina passed an omnibus voter ID law with the express intent of limiting the black and Latino vote and hurting Democrats in a southern state.
Even the gutted Voting Rights Act would still allow the Justice Department to take over NC's voting process if that ruling holds.
More detailed analysis from Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog here.