RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's newest voter photo identification law seems flawed by “discriminatory intent” and should have been blocked months ago, a state appeals court ruled on Tuesday, creating another obstacle to implementing a requirement now demanded by the state constitution.
The ruling doesn't change the current process for early in-person voting, which is already under way in the March 3 primary. That's because a federal judge already granted a request by the state NAACP and local chapters to block the ID requirement from being imposed, at least through the primary.
With the state and federal preliminary injunctions in place, chances are dwindling that the voter ID requirement will be carried out in any 2020 election.
The ruling by the three-judge Court of Appeals panel was unanimous, reversing last July's lower court decision that refused to prevent implementation of the photo ID requirement approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly while a challenge goes to trial. The law came swiftly after voters added an ID mandate to the state constitution in November 2018.
A majority of judges on the lower state court had declared that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate they were likely to win at trial on claims that the December 2018 law designed to implement the amendment showed discriminatory intent against African American voters. Republican lawmakers said this law expanded the types of qualifying IDs and made it easier for registered voters without IDs to have their votes counted, making it very different from a 2013 voter ID law that federal courts previously overturned as discriminatory.
But the Court of Appeals panel disagreed, saying the evidence shows otherwise, pointing in part to rapid passage of the December 2018 law and the absence of certain public assistance IDs on the list of qualifying cards.
“All point to the conclusion that discriminatory intent remained a primary motivating factor behind (the law), not the amendment’s directive to create a voter ID law,” Court of Appeals Judge Toby Hampson wrote in the opinion directing the lower court to issue the preliminary injunction.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs wrote a similar opinion on Dec. 31, saying the new voter ID rules appear to contain the racially discriminatory taint of the 2013 law. The federal plaintiffs say the new law violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act and Constitution.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, whose lawyers are helping represent the voters in the state case, have said both injunctions are important in case one is overturned.
“We believe this strong ruling almost certainly ensures that voters in North Carolina are unlikely to need voter IDs during the 2020 election cycle, paving the way for more voters to cast their ballots in these critical state and national elections,” the coalition said in a news release.
Lawyers for the state of North Carolina are appealing the federal ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republican legislative leaders didn't say in news releases on Tuesday whether they'll also appeal the state ruling.
“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,” House Speaker Tim Moore, one of the defendants, said in a release.
Republican Sens. Warren Daniel and Joyce Kraviec said Democrats and their judiciary allies "will have to answer for overturning the clear will of voters come November."
The members of Tuesday's panel — Hampson and Judges Allegra Collins and John Arrowood — are all registered Democrats but aren't on the 2020 ballot. Six of the seven state Supreme Court justices are registered Democrats. Three of those seven seats are up for election in the fall.