Federal court strikes down North Carolina voter ID law: "Passed with racially discriminatory intent”

"The new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision"

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published July 29, 2016 5:37PM (EDT)

Demonstrators hold signs on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol to protest the state's new voter identification law.              (AP/Marc Levy)
Demonstrators hold signs on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol to protest the state's new voter identification law. (AP/Marc Levy)

A federal appeals court struck down North Carolina's 2013 rewriting of voting laws to require photo identification to cast in-person ballots, calling the provision "racially discriminatory."

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday struck down significant portions of the Republican-backed bill, reversing a lower-court’s ruling that had upheld the controversial law.

In the 83-page ruling the three-judge panel agreed with the Justice Department, who sued over the law, finding that the restrictions violated the remaining provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, arguing that the lower court failed to adequately consider North Carolina's history with race and voting.

"The record makes clear that the historical origin of the challenged provisions in this statute is not the innocuous back-and-forth of routine partisan struggle that the State suggests and that the district court accepted," she explained.

After the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain states with a history of discrimination receive pre-approval from the federal government before changing voting rules, Republicans in North Carolina rushed to pass restrictions on access to the ballot. Legislators in the state eliminated same-day voter registration, rolled back of a week of early voting and put an end to out-of-precinct voting.

On Friday, the appeals court also ordered North Carolina to keep same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting in effect as the case made its way through the courts.

"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 of a lower court's April ruling that rejected the that the legislature had intentionally discriminated against minority voters and that large numbers would be disenfranchised by the changes to the voting system.

Most damming, the appeals court -- citing a lower court's findings -- noted that North Carolina legislators not only sought data breaking down voting practices by race, but then created the law's new restrictions to single out practices disproportionately popular among African Americans, like early voting and provisional ballots.

A state suit against the law is set to go to trial in September, when challengers to the law say they plan to present evidence that 1,400 eligible voters were improperly denied their vote in the 2016 primary due to the discriminatory voter identification requirement.

The ruling comes just days after a federal appeals court in Louisiana found that Texas' strict voter ID law also violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered the state to make changes before the November election.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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North Carolina Racial Discrimination Voter Id Laws