Attorneys in the voting rights cases will be back in federal court in Winston-Salem tomorrow morning, asking U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder to order that state lawmakers must release e-mail and other communications related to the passage of North Carolina’s sweeping voter suppression law. Lawmakers have so far refused to do so, citing “legislative immunity.”
“What exactly are they hiding?” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “North Carolinians have a right to know the thinking and motivation behind lawmakers’ decision to make it harder for them to vote. Instead, legislators are concealing their intentions and cloaking their process in secrecy. The people deserve better.”
The state NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Justice Department filed separate lawsuits in federal court in Greensboro shortly after Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 589, contending that the new law’s voter ID and other provisions violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
The court has since consolidated those actions and set them for trial in summer 2015, but the judge has indicated that he will consider suspending the voting changes for the November 2014 elections.
The parties are now knee-deep in the discovery process, and in December plaintiffs subpoenaed several GOP lawmakers, asking them to produce documents they received or sent relating to the voting changes ultimately passed by the General Assembly.
Among the documents sought are communications with constituents, state agencies, lobbyists and political organizations regarding the reasons for voting law changes; studies and reports on voter fraud, race and ethnicity of voters; and analyses of costs associated with administering the new provisions.
State lawmakers’ files may be one of the few sources of proof for plaintiffs hoping to prove that those legislators had a discriminatory purpose in enacting House Bill 589 – a critical element in proving plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and in obtaining future preclearance relief under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.
Emails disclosed in the 2011 Texas redistricting battle, for example, revealed that lawmakers there contemplated drawing voting lines in a way that might diminish the Hispanic vote.
But legislators here have asked the court to quash the subpoenas, claiming that they are completely protected from suit by virtue of the doctrine of “legislative immunity,” which, they say, “encompasses all aspects of the legislative process and forbids plaintiffs from seeking any production at all from the legislative movants.”
Read more about the cases, and the dispute before the court tomorrow here.