The state Supreme Court of North Carolina has blocked a law legislators approved over the governor’s veto that demanded specific forms of photo ID before casting a ballot. The majority concluded this law was crafted to intentionally target Black voters.
A three-judge panel on a trial court that previously considered a legal challenge to the law outlined four factors potentially pointing to an intent to enact racial discrimination, a list that includes the rejection by legislators of proposed amendments that could have helped Black residents. The ostensible purpose of dealing with the threat of misconduct in elections doesn’t solve things, since protecting the electoral process could have been accomplished by something less restrictive, the majority on the Supreme Court noted. Free ID cards fulfilling the requirements under the law were available, but even something without a listed cost could still be difficult for some to obtain if they were disabled or otherwise impeded from behaving in line with whatever standards that GOP legislators were imagining.
Targeting Black voters also stood to provide Republicans in the legislature with political benefits, since — although no racial group votes in entirely the same way — there is a history of Black voters in North Carolina supporting Democrats and white residents of the state backing Republicans. “We hold that the three-judge panel’s findings of fact are supported by competent evidence showing that the statute was motivated by a racially discriminatory purpose,” Associate Justice Anita Earls on the state Supreme Court wrote on behalf of the majority in the ruling. “The provisions enacted… were formulated with an impermissible intent to discriminate against African American voters in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.”
Underlying litigation originated in 2018, although now the party in control of the state Supreme Court will soon be changing from the Dems to Republicans, which Republicans in the legislature could take as an encouragement to push through new voter ID rules on the theory a conservative majority would be supportive. In the meantime, one of the majority’s other points was that Black voters successfully overcoming the hurdles in the state’s voter ID rules doesn’t mean they’re just irrelevant. These voters casting ballots “does not change the fact that disparate impact exists, nor does it change the intent of the North Carolina General Assembly in passing the law.”
In other newly revealed conclusions, the state Supreme Court upheld a decision by a lower court against Congressional district boundaries state legislators supported and overturned a lower court’s decision allowing state Senate districts the legislature also backed to stand, meaning the legislature’s side lost on both fronts. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a case in which North Carolina legislators are challenging the authority of state courts to oversee the Congressional redistricting process at all.
Image: Gage Skidmore/ Creative Commons