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Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down NC's Voter ID Law

A picture of an 'I Voted' sticker.
Vox Efx

A federal appeals court has found that North Carolina's voter identification law was enacted "with discriminatory intent" and must be blocked.

An opinion issued Friday by a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond reverses a lower-court's ruling that had upheld the law.
The 2013 rewrite to voting laws in North Carolina required photo identification to cast in-person ballots and made other changes.

The U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP, League of Women Voters and others sued the state, saying the restrictions violated the remaining provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

Voter ID law opponents react with approval, McCrory vows to appeal 

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said the ruling is "a major victory for North Carolina and for voting rights."

"With surgical precision, North Carolina tried to eliminate voting practices disproportionately used by African-Americans," Ho said in a statement Friday afternoon. "This ruling is a stinging rebuke of the state's attempt to undermine African-American voter participation, which had surged over the last decade."

Governor Pat McCrory condemned the court's ruling and said the state will appeal the decision.

"Photo IDs are required to purchase sudafed, cash a check, board an airplane or enter a federal court room. Yet, three Democratic judges are undermining the integrity of our elections while also maligning our state," McCrory said in a statement. "We will immediately appeal and also review other potential options."

The Rev. William Barber, director of the North Carolina NAACP, also issued a statement:

"In 2013, this government took our voting system — which was a model for the nation in encouraging people to vote, not discouraging them — and they made it into the worst voter suppression act in the country," Barber said. "Today the 4th Circuit’s decision gives North Carolinians back an electoral system that allows the people of North Carolina to vote freely this fall."

More: Read the opinion by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

In issuing the decision, Justice Diana Gribbon Motz said North Carolina’s voting law ignored critical facts. She also wrote that there is an “inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

Motz and the two other members of the three-judge panel are all Democratic appointees. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder, who ruled in favor of the Voter ID law in April, is a Republican appointee.

Here's a passage from the ruling:

Voting in many areas of North Carolina is racially polarized. That is, "the race of voters correlates with the selection of a certain candidate or candidates." Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 62 (1986) (discussing North Carolina). In Gingles and other cases brought under the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has explained that polarization renders minority voters uniquely vulnerable to the inevitable tendency of elected officials to entrench themselves by targeting groups unlikely to vote for them. In North Carolina, restriction of voting mechanisms and procedures that most heavily affect African Americans will predictably redound to the benefit of one political party and to the disadvantage of the other. As the evidence in the record makes clear, that is what happened here.

The state could appeal the decision to the full 4th Circuit Court of Appeals or to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is unlikely a decision would restore the voter ID law by the November election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Feature News Editor. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
Elizabeth “Liz” Baier is WUNC’s Digital News Editor. She's a first-generation Colombian-American fluent in Spanish. She has two decades of experience than span print, audio, and digital reporting and editing.
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