Federal Judge Rules North Carolina Lawmakers Do Not Have Blanket Immunity; Must Release Secret Communication on Voter Suppression Bill
DURHAM, NC - A federal judge ruled today that members of the North Carolina General Assembly do not have absolute immunity and protection from releasing crucial emails and other internal documents related to their motivations and rationale for passing what is arguably one of the most restrictive and harmful voter suppression laws in the nation. Attorneys challenging the measure, from the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and Advancement Project, had requested this information several months ago from 13 primary sponsors of the bill - including documents on what data they used in drafting the legislation, whom they consulted with, and what information they may have known about its impact on voters - but state lawmakers had refused to comply. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder agreed with an earlier ruling by Magistrate Judge Joi Peake that lawmakers don't have a blanket privilege from responding to requests for information. Now, if state officials want to withhold any documents, they will have to explain what they want to withhold and why. The court also ordered the state to disclose whether they intend to have any legislators testify in response to a forthcoming motion for preliminary injunction being filed by the NAACP and other plaintiffs in the case.
"We are pleased that the courts have agreed that legislative privilege is not absolute, and that the public has the right to know about information that proves why lawmakers passed legislation -particularly those laws which can cause voter suppression," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of the North Carolina NAACP and architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement
"Voting is the most sacred of our rights," said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. "Any politician who tampers with that right should be held fully accountable. With today's decision, more facts surrounding one of the worst voter suppression laws in the nation will finally come to light."
"In the face of obvious stonewalling by the defendants on behalf of Governor McCrory and other legislators, this decision establishes that they cannot hide behind the broad claim of privilege in order to prevent the discovery of their detailed efforts to disenfranchise minority voters in this state," said NCCU Law Professor Irv Joyner, the NC NAACP Legal Redress Chair and a member of the NC NAACP legal team in the voter suppression suit. "While they can attempt to run from the people, they cannot hide behind assertion of bogus legal doctrines which do not apply to them. The truth must be exposed."
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. The NC Conference of NAACP Branches is 70 years old this year and is made up of over 100 Adult, Youth and College NAACP units across the state, convenes more than 160 members of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People's Assembly Coalition, and is the architect of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement.