The state Court of Appeals ruled that the way the law was written indicated “an intention to target African American voters rather than a desire to comply with the newly created Amendment in a fair and balanced manner.”
North Carolina’s “racially discriminatory” voter ID law was dealt another blow on Tuesday when the state Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the law from going into effect.
In issuing its preliminary injunction, the court noted that the law, which was set to go into effect this year, appeared to have been implemented with “racially discriminatory intent” and would “disproportionately impact African American voters to their detriment.”
The injunction does not strike down the law in its entirety, but rather delays its implementation until after the legal battle over the law’s constitutionality is decided.
The decision marks the second time a court has ruled against the state’s current voter ID law. A federal judge temporarily blocked ID requirements on Dec. 31, ruling that parts of the law were “were impermissibly motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent.” The December ruling ensured that voters in the state’s upcoming March 3 primary would not need to bring IDs to the polls.
Tuesday’s decision—which comes as the result of a separate state lawsuit and not the federal case—could extend that injunction through the 2020 general election. Should the case remain in the courts at that time, voters would not be required to show identification when they head to the polls in November.
The state’s voter ID law was approved in November 2018 after 55% of North Carolinians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring voters present a qualifying photo ID—such as a passport, state driver’s license, or state voter photo-ID card—before casting a ballot.
The Republican-led state legislature approved the amendment and passed the law during a “lame-duck” legislative session in December 2018, one month before they stood to lose their supermajority in the legislature. The state’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but the General Assembly overrode Cooper’s veto.
The judges appeared skeptical of the defense’s argument that there was no “racially discriminatory intent or purpose,” pointing to the legislature’s previous attempt to enact a voter ID law in 2013. That law was ultimately struck down in 2016 after a federal court found it was intended to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
The ruling also noted that while voters approved a directive to create a voter-ID law, they did not specifically approve a law that appears intended to target African American voters.
“This is especially true where the Amendment itself allows for exceptions to any voter-ID law, yet the evidence shows the General Assembly specifically left out types of IDs that African Americans disproportionately lack,” the panel of three judges wrote. “Such a choice speaks more of an intention to target African American voters rather than a desire to comply with the newly created Amendment in a fair and balanced manner.”
The judges cited research showing that African-Americans lack acceptable IDs at a greater rate than white voters and highlighted the legislature’s decision not to include IDs that African-Americans disproportionately do possess—such as public assistance IDs—among the list of acceptable voter IDs.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland County), who is the primary defendant in the case, criticized the ruling Tuesday.
“North Carolinians know that General Assembly leaders will continue to fight on their behalf for a commonsense voter ID law that they chose to put in our state constitution, and we will not be deterred by judicial attempts to suppress the people’s voice in the democratic process,” Speaker Moore said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Democrats and voting rights advocates celebrated Tuesday’s ruling.
The long-term fate of the law remains unclear, though the judges also recognized the potential for voter confusion leading up to the general election in the fall, which, they wrote, “has a strong potential to negatively impact voter turnout.”