NC Court of Appeals throws out voter photo ID for now, says law likely passed with discriminatory intent

A three-judge North Carolina Court of Appeals panel has ruled unanimously that the state’s voter photo ID law will not stand pending a trial on the merits of the underlying lawsuit.

The 45-page ruling, written by Judge Toby Hampson with Judges John Arrowood and Allegra Collins concurring, states that the plaintiffs demonstrated they would likely succeed on their claims that the law, Senate Bill 824, is discriminatory and will cause irreparable harm. It also states that since the federal courts have already prevented the law from going into effect for the upcoming primary election, the decision to continue an injunction would prevent further voter confusion.

“While the future of that injunction and litigation is uncertain, enjoining the law during the litigation of this action, which the parties acknowledged would still be ongoing after these primaries, further helps prevent voter confusion leading up to the general election this fall and during the pendency of this litigation, which voter confusion has a strong potential to negatively impact voter turnout,” the ruling states.

Lawmakers enacted SB 824 after North Carolinians passed a vaguely written constitutional amendment to enshrine the use of a voter photo ID. It was passed with 55.4 percent of the vote.

The plaintiffs in Holmes v. Moore filed their lawsuit in state court the day SB 824 became law, and then they appealed a lower court’s decision not to issue a temporary ban on voter ID during the pendency of litigation.

Hampson wrote that the General Assembly’s history with voter ID laws, the unusual sequence of events leading to SB 824’s passage and the disproportional impact it will likely have on African American voters all point to the conclusion that discriminatory intent was a primary motivating factor of the measure.

“This is especially true where the Amendment itself allows for exceptions to any voter-ID law, yet the evidence shows the General Assembly specifically left out types of IDs that African Americans disproportionately lack,” the appellate ruling states. “Such a choice speaks more of an intention to target African American voters rather than a desire to comply with the newly created Amendment in a fair and balanced manner. Accordingly, we conclude, on this Record, Defendants have yet to show S.B. 824 would have been enacted in its current form irrespective of any alleged underlying discriminatory intent.”

Republican lawmakers are already attacking the three-judge panel’s partisan affiliations. Hampson, Arrowood and Collins are all registered Democrats.

“Three elitist Democratic judges just decided that the people cannot amend their own Constitution, even though the voter ID amendment received more votes than any of the judges,” says a joint statement from Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) and Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth). “Democrats and their allies on the judiciary will have to answer for overturning the clear will of the voters come November.”

Similarly, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest linked to a John Locke Foundation blog post and tweeted: “Activist Democrat judges are undermining the votes of more than 2 million North Carolinians by throwing out our voter ID law. It’s time to restore the rule of law in North Carolina.”

Allison Riggs, chief counsel for voting rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the plaintiffs in the case, tweeted about how pleased she was with the ruling.

“This victory was made possible by the numerous legislators, election administrators, advocates and voters who were willing to stand up, fight a racially discriminatory law, and put themselves through a trying discovery process to do the right thing,” she wrote. “My heart is full.”

Read the full ruling below.

Voter ID Appeal Ruling (Text)

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