North Carolina’s voter photo identification law can’t be enforced because the state General Assembly enacted provisions of the law with discriminatory intent, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled Friday.
The order also stops changes to North Carolina’s elections that curtailed early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and preregistration.
North Carolina could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, which remains shorthanded with eight justices. A deadlocked Supreme Court would uphold the lower court’s order. Thomas A. Farr, an attorney who argued the case for the state, declined to comment on what steps the state could now take.
The 4th Circuit's ruling likely will help Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and other Democrats down ballot in the swing state who expect to draw good support in the November elections from minority communities. President Barack Obama carried North Carolina, which has 15 electoral votes, in 2008 but Mitt Romney won there in 2012.
“This ruling is a stinging rebuke of the state's attempt to undermine African-American voter participation, which had surged over the last decade,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit on behalf of voters. “It is a major victory for North Carolina voters and for voting rights.”
The North Carolina General Assembly enacted the law in the wake of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down a key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That provision required such changes to be “precleared” by the Justice Department before implementation. Efforts to fix the law have stalled in Congress amid objections from Republicans who argue the landmark legislation still protects voters.
In the 83-page ruling, the appeals court reversed a district court judge who had rejected challenges to the law. The appeals court ruling notes that the state’s General Assembly got data on the use of those voting practices by race before crafting the election law — and shreds the state's justifications for doing so.
“Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them, and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist,” the court wrote.
The majority highlighted how, in North Carolina, restrictions of procedures that heavily affect African Americans will benefit of one political party to the disadvantage of the other.
A spokesperson for North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, said that the office was working on a statement.
One of the co-authors of the law, Tom Murry, was distraught with the decision. Murry, a Republican and former state representative, had previously called the law "good commonsense policy for our state."
When reached by phone and was asked how he was doing, he replied: "Not well."
"I'm not in a real good spot right now," Murry added, and then hung up.
Senate nominee and former state Rep. Deborah Ross called it a "good day for Democracy" in a statement that mentioned her efforts to broaden voting rights.
“Our democracy is strongest when we bring more voices into the political process. But North Carolina's recent and restrictive voting law, which included a stringent voter ID requirement and undid two bills I passed that allowed same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting, did the exact opposite," Ross said.
"We must continue to respect and protect the right to vote for all eligible Americans,” she said.
The state AFL-CIO called Friday's decision a "huge victory for working people" and pledged to help turn out those voters, while VotoLatino, a nonprofit that engages Latino millennials, heralded the decision as a step toward ensuring greater Latino voter participation.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr's campaign referred requests for comment to his official Senate office, which declined to comment.
Jonathan Miller and Simone Pathé contributed to this report.