Superior Court permanently enjoins 2018 NC voter ID law

A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 Friday that the state voter ID law enacted by the General Assembly in 2018 is unconstitutional. The law required voters to present a photo ID when casting their ballots, including provisional ones.

Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 824 by overriding Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the legislation during a lame duck session  in December 2018.

Represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice as well as pro bono counsel from the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, five North Carolina voters sued legislative defendants, including House Speaker Tim Moore in Wake County Superior Court.

Signed by Democratic Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier, Jr., the majority opinion held that the law was passed with discriminatory purpose or intent. Plaintiffs’ expert Kevin Quinn, a University of Michigan professor, performed an analysis in which he matched voter files to databases that track the rates at which various groups possess the required ID and unearthed disparities between voters of different races.

According to the ruling, “When restricting [Quinn’s] analysis to active voters—those who voted in the 2016 and 2018 elections—African American voters were over twice as likely to lack qualifying ID than white voters.”

Therefore, the majority opinion said, the burden of obtaining qualifying ID, including free ID, would fall more heavily on Black voters, who more often lack a form of qualifying ID required under SB 824 and encounter more barriers to obtaining such IDs compared to white voters.

In his dissenting opinion, Republican Judge Nathaniel Poovey wrote that plaintiffs failed to prove that legislative defendants acted with discriminatory intent.

“Senate Bill 824 was a bipartisan bill that was supported along the way by multiple African American legislators and enacted after the people of our State approved a constitutional amendment calling for voter-photo-ID requirements,” Poovey wrote. He said that SB 824 should not be declared unconstitutional.

Three-judge panels, composed of three superior court judges from different judicial districts, are a common form of arbitration for constitutional challenges to state laws. The Holmes v. Moore decision came after a three-week trial in April.

In 2019, the Wake County Superior Court denied plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, which was granted later by a Court of Appeals panel in 2020.

In response to today’s ruling, Southern Coalition for Social Justice co-executive director and chief counsel for voting rights Allison Riggs issued a statement lauding the judges’ action:

Southern Coalition for Social Justice co-executive director and chief counsel for voting rights Allison Riggs

“We applaud the three-judge panel’s decision and hope it sends a strong message that racial discrimination will not be tolerated. Should legislative defendants appeal today’s ruling, we’ll be prepared to remind them of what this court and the state’s constitution mandate: every vote matters.”

A separate federal lawsuit on the voter ID law is ongoing. As Policy Watch previously reported, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore sought to intervene in that suit, but were rebuffed in that effort by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Berger and Moore are seeking review of that issue by the U.S. Supreme Court. In response to today’s ruling, Moore’s attorney promised an appeal, saying in  a statement “We look forward to appealing this partisan ruling on behalf of the people of North Carolina.”

This is not the first time North Carolina pushed for a stricter photo ID requirement. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Shelby County v. Holder ruling, the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly voted to pass HB 589, which only allowed one of eight forms of voter ID for in-person voters. That bill also included other restrictive measures such as ending pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds and forbidding voters from casting ballots outside of their precincts.

The Fourth Circuit of Appeals said in the decision striking down the law, that the General Assembly was “eager to rush through the legislative process the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has ever seen since the era of Jim Crow.”

Quinn’s analysis shows that though SB 324 added a few eligible IDs to the eight types of acceptable IDs under HB 589, it added only a “minuscule number” of voters.

Policy Watch will publish additional updates on this case as they become available.

Revised voting rights bill rolled out in U.S. Senate, with Manchin on board

Redistricting public hearings fall short in accommodating public input, advocates say

Starting this evening, lawmakers will travel to 13 locations throughout the state to host public hearings on redistricting, which will redefine the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts for up to a decade to come, including a new, 14th congressional district. However, it appears that members of the public will not be able to participate and provide comments online.

The 13 meetings will take place at these locations:

A press release from Common Cause NC protested the lack of live-streaming options.

“The public’s voice matters in how new legislative and congressional maps are drawn in North Carolina,“ Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC said in a press release. ”As the COVID-19 virus ravages our state once again, it is disappointing that lawmakers are holding a series of public hearings on redistricting without an opportunity for community members to take part virtually in these meetings from the safety of their homes.”

Common Cause NC executive director Bob Phillips

Phillips told Policy Watch that while the time and location of some of the hearings are already less than ideal, the recent spike of COVID-19 cases poses extra challenges that warrant better streaming and virtual participation options. He noted that the hearing in Mecklenburg County is scheduled at 3 pm. Raleigh and Greensboro, the second and third largest cities in the state will not have a pre-map hearing.

Phillips recalled that in 2011, legislators used satellite technologies to let participants at simultaneous hearings on different sites view the proceedings in other locations and interact with each other.

“I don’t think Zoom and live streams and things like that, really, truly existed a decade ago,” Phillips said. “But there seemed to be more hearings on both the front end and the back end and more use of the technology of the times to provide as much access and transparency as possible, in contrast to what we’re seeing today.”

The public meetings this year will likely be recorded and posted online later. Phillips said, however, “That is a poor substitute for providing real-time live stream meetings with real-time virtual participation.”

To adopt maps before the start of the December candidate filing period for the 2022 elections, lawmakers have pledged to finalize the maps in November. This gives them roughly three months since the process commenced in August. However, the first public hearing is only set to take place a month after the initial legislative meeting. Legislators are expected release draft maps around the time public hearings conclude at the end of September.

Redistricting in 2011

Jennifer Bremer, a Chapel Hill resident tallied the number of redistricting hearings in 2011. Without a delay like the one that was precipitated by the 2020 census holdup, the 2011 redistricting process took more than four months from the end of March through the end of July with more than 60 hearings. Some hearings were held at the same time as those in other locations.

2011 Redistricting timeline, courtesy of Jennifer Bremer.

According to Bremer, the state legislature held hearings in 36 counties after the release of the initial proposed state Senate and congressional plans in 2011. Then, after the state House map was released, legislators took public comments on proposed maps at three rounds of hearings, with map revisions in between.

This year, however, chairs of the redistricting committees have indicated that they will only allow public comment at a post-map hearing at the General Assembly in Raleigh, without promising additional hearings elsewhere. Phillips says it’s “completely unacceptable” to only have a hearing in Raleigh.

In 2011,  Bremer said the post-map hearings were held in counties  that were spread across the state, including Buncombe, Cumberland, Guilford, Hertford, Jackson, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Nash, Pitt, Wake and Watauga.

Bremer said it’s imperative that legislators hold public meetings after the release of draft plans. Only then can residents reflect on the proposed maps and make concrete suggestions, she said.

How to make effective public comments

Throughout the redistricting process, members of the public can continue to submit comments to the legislative website through the public comment portal.

Bremer said it’s important to make specific comments. “In other words, like… don’t split Hickory, or we don’t like the fact that our county is divided this way versus that, as opposed to draw fair maps and don’t gerrymander… That just uses up time and accomplishes nothing,” she said.

Peter Miller, a researcher at the Brennan Center for Justice found in a study that public comments do win the attention of legislators and influence maps. This is especially true when multiple members of the public post similar comments that are specific. In a post that listed tips for submitting effective comments, he noted that “44 percent of public comments that expressed a view on how a specific location should be handled by map drawers were adopted in the final congressional maps.”

In addition, Miller also recommended: including giving executable instructions to map drawers, addressing small areas, defining communities and need for representation, using online mapping tools, summarizing main points and building neighborhood coalition.

N.C. Court of Appeals stays lower court ruling which expanded voting rights for people with felony convictions

Dennis Gaddy, the founder and Executive Director of Community Success Initiative, was denied his right to vote for seven years because of a felony conviction. A lawsuit filed this week to restore the voting rights of others in similar positions is personal, he said at a press conference in 2019. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

A three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals stayed an injunctive order that effectively restored voting rights to 56,000 North Carolinians with a felony conviction but while on parole, probation and post-release supervision.

As Policy Watch previously reported, a three-judge panel of the lower court heard the case, filed by advocacy organizations against State House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr. in Wake County Superior Court.

That three-judge panel granted injunctive relief while the case is pending, saying that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that disenfranchisement laws are rooted in racial discrimination.

Republican legislative leaders lambasted Attorney General Josh Stein for not appealing immediately after the oral ruling last Monday. Berger and Moore sent a letter informing Stein’s office that Stein was “fired” and that they were seeking outside counsel. Berger and Moore appealed the decision the day the written order was entered, but were denied the request to vacate the order by the same Superior Court judges. They then sought the stay from the Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals cases are usually heard by a panel of three judges.

The state Court of Appeals ruled in favor of legislative defendants without hearing any oral argument.

Plaintiffs are now appealing to the state Supreme Court, where Democrats hold a 4-3 advantage.

”This case is a matter of statewide and national significance, requiring immediate action from the state’s highest Court,” the plaintiffs said in a press release. “Hundreds of North Carolinians are exercising a new right to vote in this state, encouraged and inspired by the three judge panel decision — we will not rest until their rights are fully vindicated. ”

A press release from Berger’s office said the stay preserves the 1973 law regulating voting rights passed by Democrats.

The press release quoted Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, as saying: “This law, passed by a Democrat-led legislature 50 years ago, provides a path for felons to regain voting rights. If a judge prefers a different path to regaining those rights, then he or she should run for the General Assembly and propose that path. Judges aren’t supposed to be oligarchs who issue whatever decrees they think best.”

In a previous interview, Dennis Gaddy, the founder of Community Success Initiative and a lead plaintiff in the case, said Black legislators wanted to do exactly what the plaintiffs asked for in the 1970s. “But it was stymied by the legislature and that was because they wanted to include probation and parole as part of the sentence,” he said.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections modified the voter registration forms the day of the oral ruling announcement and urged county boards to permit affected individuals to vote. However, following the stay, it reverted back to the original form used before the injunction with the a line that states: “You must not be currently serving a felony sentence, including any probation, post-release supervision, or parole OR you are serving an extended term of probation, post-release supervision, parole, you have outstanding monetary obligations, and you are not aware of other reasons for the extension of your period of supervision.

Anniversary of the 19th Amendment a reminder that American women are still denied equal rights will rally at the General Assembly today at 10:00 a.m.

Today is Women’s Equality Day – the day we commemorate the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave American women the right to vote. It’s definitely an anniversary to remember and celebrate.

Recently, however, advocates at the ERA-North Carolina Alliance have re-named the day to more accurately reflect the current state of women’s rights. They’re calling it “Women’s (In)Equality Day.”

At the heart of their concerns, of course, is the Equal Rights Amendment – another simple and straightforward addition to the Constitution that was passed by Congress almost 50 years ago, but initially fell just just short of the required number of states for final ratification.

In 2020, Virginia appeared to push the ERA across the goal line when it became the 38th state to ratify, but the matter remains tied up in court. North Carolina, not surprisingly, remains among the 12 holdouts.

This is from an announcement of a rally that will take place today at the General Assembly:

August 26th is typically when we commemorate the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That was the date it was formally published to the Bill of Rights in 1920. However, we recognize that simply achieving the right to vote was not enough to ensure that women have equal protection under the Constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923, and is still not part of the Bill of Rights, even after Virginia became the 38th and final necessary state to ratify in January, 2020. That’s why we’re calling this August 26th Women’s (IN)Equality Day!

Join the ERA-NC Alliance on Thursday, August 26th from 10 a.m. to noon at the N.C. Statehouse as we celebrate women’s right to vote and demand ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment!

The Statehouse is located at 16 W. Jones St., Raleigh, NC 27601.

Our speakers include:

  • ERA ratification bill lead sponsors, Reps. Julie Von Haefen and Susan Fisher, and Sens. Natalie Murdock and Natasha Marcus,
  • Former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley,
  • Mandy Carter, co-founder of Southerners on New Ground and the National Black Justice Coalition,
  • Adrienne Spinner, Board Advisor with NC Council for Women & Youth Involvement,
  • NC Secretary of Commerce, Machelle Sanders, and
  • Frachele Scott, managing director of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice.

Representatives from our partner organizations for this event will also comment on what they’re doing in North Carolina and in Washington, D.C., to achieve constitutional equality.

Fortunately, while final ratification of the federal ERA would be ideal, there are other paths forward. Twenty-five states have already made equal rights a part of their state constitutions and it’s long past time for North Carolina to join the list. Let’s hope today’s event helps hasten that result.