On Friday morning, a federal appeals court struck down a number of sweeping changes to North Carolina’s voting rules made in 2013, including its voter identification law, holding that they had been “enacted with racially discriminatory intent.”
In addition to overturning the voter ID requirement, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled unanimously to reinstate early voting; out-of-precinct voting; preregistration; and same-day registration.
According to civil rights activists and attorneys for the Justice Department, the rule changes made in 2013 had not only disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters, but also discriminated against minorities.
The nonprofit Common Cause North Carolina, one of the plaintiffs that challenged the constitutionality of the state’s rule changes, celebrated the circuit court’s decision. “We are pleased that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that the restrictions enacted by the legislature hurt North Carolinians by creating unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to voting,” the group’s executive director, Bob Phillips, said in a statement. “This decision is a vital step in returning North Carolina to its position as a national leader on voting rights and equal access to the polls.”
The 4th Circuit’s decision on Friday overturns a North Carolina federal district court judge’s decision to uphold the rule changes in April. “There is significant, shameful past discrimination,” Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, allowed in his earlier decision. “In North Carolina’s recent history, however, certainly for the last quarter century, there is little official discrimination to consider.”
In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its action, the State offered only meager justifications. 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.
“Faced with this record,” Motz wrote, “we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”