Court finds North Carolina Republicans guilty of racial discrimination

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina intended the state’s voter ID law to make it harder for Black residents to vote, according to a panel of state judges that handed down a ruling on Friday.

There’s no evidence that legislators who supported the law were motivated by racism, the judges wrote but it’s still discriminatory to target Black voters, they said, even if it’s done for purely political reasons.

In this case, the political motivation was that Black voters almost universally support Democratic politicians, they said.

“In reaching this conclusion, we do not find that any member of the General Assembly who voted in favor of (voter ID) harbors any racial animus or hatred towards African American voters, but rather … that the Republican majority ‘target[ed] voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the majority party. Even if done for partisan ends, that constitute[s] racial discrimination’,” said the panel.

In the 102-page opinion, a majority of the three-judge panel wrote that the 2018 voter ID law was “ in violation of the North Carolina constitutional prohibitions on intentional discrimination.” The ruling, which will likely be appealed by the defendants, means North Carolina voters will be able to cast a ballot without having to show a photo ID at least in upcoming municipal elections.

The case, Holmes v. Moore, was brought by attorneys with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and pro bono counsel from the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, on behalf of five North Carolina voters.  Filed in December 2018, Holmes v. Moore alleges that North Carolina’s voter ID law (S.B. 824), which was approved by a Republican-led supermajority in a lame-duck session, was racially motivated. 

SCSJ’s Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel for Voting Rights Allison Riggs and pro bono counsel Andrew J. Erhlich called the ruling “a strong message that racial discrimination will not be tolerated.”

“Friday’s ruling striking down the unconstitutional photo voter ID law in North Carolina is other piece of evidence in a pile of overwhelming proof that Republicans seek to disenfranchise voters to insulate state’s Republican-controlled legislature from democracy,” said New Jersey civil rights champion Lisa McCormick. “The Republican Party is cheating to maintain power by targeting voters of color and defy the concept of majority rule, which is no better than the failed coup d’etat on January 6, when a mob of Trump-loving terrorists tried to overthrow the American government with violence.”

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.” 

The ruling, along with witnesses’ testimony at trial, “highlighted how the state’s Republican-controlled legislature undeniably implemented this legislation to maintain its power by targeting voters of color,” said Allison Riggs, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice co-executive director.

Attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison helped win he case, which was filed on behalf of five voters in the state, alleges that the voter ID law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution because it intentionally discriminates against Black voters.

In February 2020, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs have “shown a clear likelihood of success on the merits” of their intentional discrimination claim, and ordered the trial court to enjoin the law until a trial is concluded.

In July 2020, the legislative defendants moved to dissolve that preliminary injunction, arguing that the enactment of subsequent legislation undermined the Court of Appeals’ conclusion but a three-judge panel unanimously denied that motion, holding that the preliminary injunction will “remain unaltered and in effect.”

The latest ruling reiterated the assertion that “North Carolina has a long history of race discrimination generally and race-based vote suppression in particular.”

“The judges noted that historically, officials claimed that their actions were needed to protect against voter fraud when, ‘in reality, they were designed to thwart growing Black political power’ and the

Vote suppression has a long and ugly history in the U.S., and over the last two decades, it has resurfaced with a vengeance.”

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