Obama-appointed Federal Judge Blocks North Carolina Voter ID Mandate


by Luis Miguel, The New American:

North Carolina Republicans’ voter Identification push has met momentary defeat at the hands of a federal court, which has blocked the state’s voter ID requirement that was set to begin in 2020.

The United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina announced Thursday that U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, a Barack Obama appointee, will formally block a photo ID requirement enshrined in the state’s constitution — a requirement that opponents claimed in a lawsuit will disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos.

Unless the preliminary injunction is appealed successfully, the voter ID requirement will be put on hold until the resolution of the lawsuit filed by the NAACP and others.

A short written notice from the federal court in Winston-Salem previewed Biggs’ order because election officials from the state were making plans to expand education efforts about the ID law in just a few days. The requirement would have applied to absentee mail-in ballots in just a few weeks and to the March 3rd primary.

The state law gives voters several options of qualifying photo IDs and even allows those lacking one to obtain a free ID card or fill out a form explaining their “reasonable impediment” to getting one.

Voter ID requirements were put in place during North Carolina’s 2016 primary elections as part of a 2013 law, but several portions of that legislation were struck down in July of 2016 by a federal appeals court that said photo ID and related measures were approved with the aim of racial discrimination.

In response, Republicans placed a question on the November 2018 ballot to put voter ID in the state constitution, thereby giving voter ID a stronger legal and popular standing. The amendment ultimately passed with a clear 55 percent of the vote, and the legislature subsequently approved a December 2018 law detailing the amendment’s implementation. Lawsuits were filed immediately.

Lawyers representing the state and local NAACP wrote in a court brief that the new voter ID policy is a “barely disguised duplicate” of the 2013 law and “carries the same discriminatory intent as its predecessor.”

The new rules offer voters greater flexibility, even allowing them to use public and private university cards. But they still prevent individuals from using government welfare IDs to vote, which the NAACP says adversely targets blacks.

Until Biggs’ detailed order is released, her specific reasons for issuing the injunction will not be known, nor will it be certain whether the legislature can rapidly pass legislation that alters the rules to resolve Biggs’ concerns.

Rev. Anthony Spearman, NAACP President for North Carolina, praised Biggs’ decision, describing the 2018 law as “the latest bad-faith attempt in a string of failed efforts by the (North Carolina) General Assembly to impede the right to vote of African Americans and Latinos in this state, and to blunt the force of the true will of the people.”

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore criticized the Friday notice, calling it a “last-minute attempt by an activist federal judge to overturn the will of North Carolina voters” and recommending that the ruling be “immediately appealed” by the State Board of Elections, which is a defendant in the case.

It remains to be seen whether the board, comprised of three Democrats and two Republicans all appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, will take his advice. Cooper is an opponent of voter ID, although he is named in the lawsuit due to his position as governor. He vetoed the legislation in question, though two Democrats joined with all Republicans to override his veto.

State Department of Justice lawyers represented the board in court in the effort to uphold the 2018 voter ID law, arguing that the new rules fix previous concerns of bias and that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate the existence of discriminatory intent.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is a Democrat. His office has declined to comment on whether an appeal of Biggs’ order will be pursued. Biggs prevented Moore and Republican Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger from officially entering the case on the grounds that the board was already making an adequate defense.

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