Barring a successful and rapid appeal, North Carolina’s voter ID requirement for the March 2020 primary looks dead.
U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Biggs blocked Senate Bill 824 in an order issued Tuesday, Dec. 31. Biggs said racial motivation was a likely factor in the General Assembly’s crafting of the voter ID law. The N.C. NAACP, which brought the lawsuit, was likely to prevail in several of its allegations against the law, Biggs said.
Her order blocks the law from taking effect for the full 2020 election cycle unless the order is blocked or defendants win at a trial sometime next year. Lawyers for Republican legislative leaders said Monday the order would have to be reversed by Jan. 13 to allow officials to prepare voters for an ID requirement in the March 3 primary election.
The General Assembly passed S.B. 824 in December 2018 over Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. The law implemented a 2018 constitutional amendment requiring voters to present state-approved identification at the polls.
Defendants, says the order, shall take steps to stop mailings and other public communications that may be in production — but haven’t yet been sent — saying photo ID will be required for 2020 elections. The court orders those involved to work with local media, county boards of elections, and voter-education groups to take all necessary and reasonable steps to inform voters of this injunction and, specifically, inform voters no photo ID will be required to vote.
The N.C. NAACP filed the lawsuit in December 2018 challenging the state’s constitutional amendment requiring voters to present state-approved identification at the polls.
The lawsuit listed Gov. Roy Cooper and the State Board of Elections as defendants, but left out members of the General Assembly, who enacted the law over Cooper’s veto. Biggs, an appointee of President Obama, rejected lawmakers’ attempt to intervene in the lawsuit.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Stein on Tuesday would only say the Attorney General’s Office was reviewing the 60-page order, WRAL reported. State Board of Elections spokesman Pat Gannon told CJ Monday the board may consider an appeal if no one else did so.
Monday, lawyers for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, asked the state Department of Justice to appeal Biggs’ ruling.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Berger spokeswoman Lauren Horsch said, “It is absolutely ridiculous that the judge would accuse the bill sponsors — including an African American Democrat [former Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg] — of being racist. The voters saw the need for voter ID and approved the constitutional amendment. The legislature, acting on the will of the people, enacted one of the broadest voter ID laws in the nation. Now this lawsuit, and last-minute ruling, have sowed additional discord and confusion about the voting process.”
Horsch repeated the leader’s call for Stein to appeal immediately.
S.B. 824 was at least partly motivated by racially discriminatory intent, Biggs said in the order.
“The preliminary evidence demonstrates a clear likelihood that Plaintiffs will establish that discrimination was behind the law: S.B. 824 was enacted against a backdrop of recurring state-sanctioned racial discrimination and voter suppression efforts — both in the far and more recent past — and the state’s polarized electorate presents the opportunity to exploit race for partisan gain.”
The law harms the NAACP and the voters it represents, Biggs added, saying that allowing the law to go forward would harm plaintiffs more than blocking it would harm the state. The elections board also has failed to educate voters enough about ID, meaning minority voters are likely to suffer, the court order said.
Legislators who enacted the voter ID law were mostly from illegally gerrymandered districts, Biggs said. Blocking the law is in the best interest of the public, she added.
“Plaintiffs have satisfied each element required to support the issuance of a preliminary injunction with respect to their claims that S.B. 824’s voter-ID (both in-person and absentee) and ballot-challenge provisions were impermissibly motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent. Those provisions will be enjoined pending trial.”
With reporting from Kari Travis, John Trump, and Rick Henderson. This story was updated to include a statement from Berger’s office.