Politics & Government

Judges won’t block voter ID law for 2020, but lawsuit will continue

Protesters oppose voter ID bill during legislative special session

NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
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NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

A court ruling Friday will allow North Carolina’s voter ID law to go into effect in time for the 2020 presidential election.

A panel of three Superior Court judges heard arguments for the case June 28 when lawyers argued over whether the law would discriminate against African American voters in North Carolina. The law is meant to implement an amendment to the state’s constitution approved by North Carolina voters last fall that requires voters to show photographic identification before voting.

Legislators passed the law over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, but a group of voters sued. The court didn’t entirely throw out the lawsuit Friday, but it granted Republican legislative leaders’ requests to dismiss all of the voters’ claims but one.

“Today a bipartisan three judge panel denied an attempt by a group of liberal activists to delay implementation of voter ID which was approved by a majority of North Carolinians at the polls last November,” Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement Friday. “... This is a huge win for the people of North Carolina who delivered a clear mandate last fall that they want common-sense protections against voter fraud. “

The voter ID requirement is not in place for 2019 elections.

The challengers , represented by Allison Riggs of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, asked judges for a preliminary injunction that would at least temporarily block the law. . She said the new voter identification law violates the fundamental rights of especially black voters.

Voter ID laws have a history of disproportionately disenfranchising black voters — especially those who were born during the Jim Crow era who may not have received birth certificates. In 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed a photo ID law that also included other restrictions on voting, and that was later struck down by a federal appeals court in 2016 as unconstitutional for targeting “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Attorneys for House Speaker Tim Moore, Berger, Sen. Ralph Hise and Rep. David Lewis argued for the court to throw out the lawsuit because the new voter ID law was sufficiently different from the 2013 one. This is because it allows for more forms of identification to be used at polling sites, including government work IDs, and allowed for people who did not have ID to fill out a ballot and explain why they were not able to provide photo ID. The changes would benefit African Americans, they said.

Riggs argued that the new voter ID law is similar to the unconstitutional 2013 law.

However, Judges Nathaniel Poovey and Vince Rozier Friday denied a preliminary injunction based on the fact that the voters challenging the law were unlikely to succeed.

In a partial dissent, Judge Michael O’Foghludha said he would have ordered a preliminary injunction based on the law’s disproportionately harmful effect on black voters.

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