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.

U.S. House passes voting rights bill but Senate approval unlikely

Superior Court panel restores voting rights of people with felony convictions serving time outside prison

Image: Adobe Stock

For more than a century, North Carolinians with felony convictions could only register to vote upon completion of their parole, probation or post-supervision release.

That changed on Monday when a three-judge panel issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by the nonprofit Community Success Initiative, an advocacy organization for incarcerated people.

Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit petitioning judges to strike down the state law that only reinstates the right to vote for these individuals upon completion of their community supervision outside prison.

The plaintiffs announced the judges’ oral decision Monday. An official written ruling has not yet been entered. During the trial last week, experts and state officials testified on the history of the state law.

A press release from the plaintiffs touted the decision as the state’s “largest expansion of voting rights in the state since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

By modifying a previous preliminary injunction that only granted the part of the request, judges restored the voting rights of close to 56,000 disenfranchised individuals convicted of federal and state felonies, according to Dennis Gaddy, the executive director of the Community Success Initiative.

At a press conference, Gaddy said the ruling could impact another 20,000 to 25,000 people who are released per year. It does not affect people who are currently incarcerated.

Plaintiffs highlight racial discrimination in state voting rights law

The law originated from a post-Civil War amendment to the state constitution in 1875, which first codified disenfranchisement for all felonies. The law was described by plaintiffs as “adopted for overtly racist reasons.”

“This whole conversation is based on race, not felonies,” Gaddy said the white power in the state created laws to disproportionately punish people of color and deprive them of their voices.

“Although African Americans constitute 21.51% of the voting-age population in North Carolina, they represent 42.43% of the people disenfranchised while on probation, parole, or post-release supervision,” the plaintiff’s brief stated.

Formerly convicted advocates stressed the necessity, positive impact of ruling

Gaddy is also a lead plaintiff in the case. “I spent five and a half years in prison; I spent seven years on probation starting in 2005. And I had a job, I paid taxes, did all those things,” he told Policy Watch. “And still in 2008, I was unable to vote for the first African American president because I was on probation.”

Corey Purdie, executive director of Wash Away Unemployment . Screenshot of press conference.

Corey Purdie, executive director of Wash Away Unemployment, said at the press conference that he sees the ruling as an opportunity to destigmatize the community of the formerly incarcerated and encourage them to vote. He said, “Those that have been incarcerated across the state… they’ve been out for years but have not initiated their opportunities, and some now have been allowed opportunities but because of the fear of being unable to speak from being in prison from a teenager up and being told ‘if you say anything, you’d be locked up in a hole.’”

Rev. Anthony Spearman, president of N.C. NAACP  said his organization will join other groups in organizing vote drives to “unlock the vote.”

“When returning citizens have an opportunity for redemption and employment and re-enfranchisement,  we all win,” Spearman said. “Returning citizens will work to make our communities safer.”

A group of organizations filed amicus curiae, or “friends of the courts” briefs supporting the plaintiffs’ claims.

Among the amici are several states that have restored voting rights for those disenfranchised because of felony convictions, including the District of Columbia, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Nevada.

The legislative defendants could still appeal the ruling to the state appellate courts. State House Speaker Tim Moore’s Office has not responded to requests for comment as of this writing.

[Disclosure: the North Carolina Justice Center, the parent organization of Policy Watch, filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in the case.]


New report shows how close a Trump DOJ official’s letter came to fomenting a coup

Jeffrey Clark speaks at a 2020 press conference (Photo by Yuri Gripas-Pool/Getty Images)

On Dec. 28, a top official in the Trump Department of Justice circulated an extraordinary, potentially history-altering letter to his colleagues, writing that “I see no valid downsides” to issuing the letter and proposing that they “get it out as soon as possible.”

In that letter, reported this week by ABC News, Jeffrey Clark falsely claimed that there were such “significant concerns” about the legitimacy of the election in Georgia that Gov. Brian Kemp ought to call the state Legislature into special session to overturn the results and give Donald Trump the state’s 16 electoral votes.

That of course was a lie, a lie created to foment a coup.

“Given the urgency of this serious matter … the Department believes that a special session of the Georgia General Assembly is warranted and in the national interest,” the draft letter stated. It also argued that if Kemp balked at calling a special session, the legislature has “implied authority under the Constitution” to call itself into session and act.

At that point, and at several others in the week of Dec. 27, history teetered, putting the fate of our democratic republic in true jeopardy. It was preserved only because a handful of people in crucial positions made the right decisions.

Different people, willing to make different decisions, might have brought it all tumbling down.

For example, if Clark’s proposed letter had been made public, throwing the prestige of the DOJ behind claims of electoral fraud, it would have added enormous, perhaps overwhelming pressure on Kemp and Republican legislative leaders to call that special session, and to alter the election outcome. Because as we’ve learned, Georgia was considered key. The Trump campaign clearly believed that if they could bum-rush Georgia into throwing out the vote of the people, based purely on nonsensical “evidence,” other GOP-leaning states such as Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania would be pressured to do the same. If Georgia fell, Trump may have been well on his way to remaining in power despite being clearly, and fairly, defeated under the rules laid out in the Constitution.

As we know, that did not happen, but it is only now that we can appreciate how close it may have come. It did not happen only because Clark’s superiors in the DOJ – acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his top deputy — refused to allow release of that proposed letter, understanding that it had no basis whatsoever in fact or law.

We also now know that the day before Clark sent his inter-office memo, Trump himself had contacted top officials at DOJ to pressure them. According to notes of one conversation taken by Rosen’s deputy on Dec. 27, Trump told the acting attorney general that he didn’t have to try to overturn the whole election. “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen,” those notes quote Trump as saying.

As that week went on, Trump continued his focus on Georgia. Read more

State legislators rally in D.C. to urge congressional action on voting rights