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This morning’s Greensboro News & Record is spot on in an editorial regarding the efforts of Republican lawmakers to keep communications related to the monster voting law secret. Here’s the conclusion:

“Just as literacy tests were really intended, not to make sure voters could read, but to limit voting by blacks, so might similar motives underlie newer forms of voting restrictions. Since federal courts have jurisdiction over state voting laws, they can compel the release of evidence that otherwise might be protected by legislative immunity. Many of the documents sought are communications between legislators and outside parties that normally would be considered public under the state’s open records law. Greater protection can be allowed for communications between legislators and their lawyers or those circulated only among legislators and their staffs.

The judge directed plaintiffs and defendants to confer in more detail about specific documents and issue a status report. A final decision will follow eventually — the case isn’t scheduled to go to trial until next year — but [Judge] Peake indicated she will order legislators to turn over at least some of the documents requested.

The way to get to the truth of the matter is to see what legislators were saying among themselves about the new voting laws.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

The court handling the challenges to the voting law changes enacted by the General Assembly last session ruled today that the doctrine of legislative immunity did not give legislators absolute protection from having to disclose some emails and other documents generated while those changes were being considered.

“North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy. The people deserve better.”

In League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina, Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake wrote:

The Court concludes that while the judicially-created doctrine of “legislative immunity” provides individual legislators with absolute immunity from liability for their legislative acts, that immunity does not preclude all discovery in the context of this case; instead, claims of legislative immunity or privilege in the discovery context must be evaluated under a flexible approach that considers the need for the information in the context of the particular suit presented, while still protecting legislative sovereignty and minimizing any direct intrusion into the legislative process.

***

The Court must consider the context of this suit under the Voting Rights Act in making a particularized determination of the extent of any privilege, balancing the need for obtaining the information with the impact on legislative sovereignty and the need to “insure that legislators are not distracted from or hindered in the performance of their legislative tasks.”  In undertaking this inquiry, the Court notes that many of the documents requested by the subpoenas and discovery requests involve communications with outside parties or are other documents that are considered public records under state law. Requiring production of those documents is not unduly burdensome or invasive of the legislative process. However, other categories of documents may require further scrutiny in balancing the competing interests. In addition, the protections of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine can also be claimed by the individual legislators, and those issues have not been addressed in detail as to the specific requests presented.

“Today’s ruling is good news for every North Carolinian who values integrity and transparency in our elections,” Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, added. “The public has a right to know how and why officials drafted legislation making it harder for North Carolinians to vote, and with today’s ruling, we can hopefully get to the bottom of those questions.”

Read more here about this chapter of the litigation pending in federal court in Winston-Salem.

Read the court’s full order here.

ICYMI, the lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer is a good one. It explains — much as NC Policy Watch Courts and Law reporter Sharon McCloskey did in this story yesterday — why the claims of legislative leaders of that “legislative immunity” somehow insulates them from disclosing the real reasons behind the voter suppression bill passed last session are completely bogus. After exploring the recent hubbub surrounding the bizarre comments of Senator Bill Rabon in the puppy mill controversy, the editorial puts it this way:

“The legislators say they are protected by ‘legislative immunity,’ which they claim not only shields them from ‘arrest or civil process for what they do in legislative proceedings,’ but also having to reveal the conversations they had during the crafting of that legislation.

Are they right? Read More

In an editorial last week, the Wall Street Journal went after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for suing North Carolina over voting law changes enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly in June, calling his efforts to bail the state back into federal supervision under the still-viable Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act a backdoor tactic with little chance of success.

Putting aside the fact that the Attorney General challenges several of the changes — shortening of the early voting period, for example, or the elimination of provisional ballots for those who vote in the wrong precinct — the Journal argues that Holder is out of luck because courts elsewhere have approved voter ID laws.

Courts have already reviewed similar laws in other states and found them legal. In 2008, in a 6-3 decision written by liberal former Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter ID law. In 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the Peach State’s voter ID law was constitutional, calling its photo ID requirements a “minimal, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory restriction.” Thirty-four states now require voters to show some form of photo ID. Read More