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‘Sordid History’ Cited as Judge Blocks North Carolina Voter ID Law

by January 3, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. — The federal judge who blocked the newest version of North Carolina’s voter identification law cited the state’s “sordid history of racial discrimination and voter suppression” as she ordered officials not to enforce the law in 2020.

U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Biggs’ decision was released Tuesday and prevents North Carolina from requiring voters to provide identification starting in 2020. The Republican leaders of the state House and Senate, however, have asked North Carolina’s Department of Justice to appeal.

The federal court advised last week that Biggs would formally block the photo ID requirement until a lawsuit filed by state NAACP and others is resolved. Her decision provided insight into why she blocked the law, which she said was similar to a 2013 law that a federal appeals court struck down in 2016.

That court said the photo ID and other voter restrictions were approved with intentional racial discrimination in mind, and Biggs said the newest version of the law was no different in that respect.

“North Carolina has a sordid history of racial discrimination and voter suppression stretching back to the time of slavery, through the era of Jim Crow, and, crucially, continuing up to the present day,” Biggs wrote.

Legislators received a breakdown of voter behavior by race before passing the 2016 law and used that data to target African American voters, the court wrote in striking down that law. The defendants said there’s no evidence of similar behavior before the most recent voter ID law.

But the same key lawmakers championed both bills, Biggs wrote. “ … they need not had racial data in hand to still have it in mind,” the ruling says.

The approval of the new version, known as S.B. 824, was “procedurally unobjectional,” Biggs wrote. But its closeness in time to the previous version; the fact that many of the same legislators were involved in both bills; the use of “unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps” and other issues “indicate that something was amiss,” she wrote.

The legislative history of the bill, including statements from its supporters, show that “rather than trying to cleanse the discriminatory taint” imbued in the previous voter ID law, lawmakers tried to circumvent state and federal courts, she wrote.

The photo ID law would have been effective with the March 3 primary. But the requirement would have been put into motion sooner than that with mail-in absentee voters, who also would have had to provide an ID copy.

The Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina conference of the NAACP, said he was “overjoyed” by Biggs’ decision.

“Quite frankly, tears are coming to my eyes as I read the decision,” he said. Biggs’ “strong language is so appropriate” as the nation approaches the 2020 elections, Spearman said.

“I hope it is something that will encourage people who have not exercised their right to vote to cast their votes,” he said.

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