North Carolina voter ID law blocked by judge over accusations of racial discrimination

Critics say ID measure unfairly targets African-Americans ahead of 2020 election

Conrad Duncan
Wednesday 01 January 2020 20:32
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Reverend T Anthony Spearman from North Carolina's NAACP has said he is 'overjoyed' by the decision
Reverend T Anthony Spearman from North Carolina's NAACP has said he is 'overjoyed' by the decision

A federal judge cited North Carolina’s “sordid history of racial discrimination and voter suppression” as she blocked the state’s new voter identification law.

The decision by US district court judge Loretta Biggs will prevent state officials from requiring voters to show identification in the 2020 presidential election after critics said the law unfairly targets African-Americans.

North Carolina could be a key state in this year’s election as voters chose Donald Trump in the last presidential vote but also elected a Democratic governor in 2016.

Republican leaders in the state House and Senate have asked North Carolina’s Department of Justice to appeal Judge Biggs’ decision, which blocks the law until a lawsuit filed by the state NAACP and others is resolved.

“North Carolina has a sordid history of racial discrimination and voter suppression stretching back to the time of slavery, through the era of Jim Crow, and, crucially, continuing up to the present day,” Judge Biggs wrote.

The judge said the newest version of the law was similar to a 2013 law that was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2016.

In that case, the court said voting restrictions were approved with intentional racial discrimination in mind and the law targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision”.

Judge Biggs wrote that the new voter ID law did not fix the problems with discrimination in the 2013 law and lawmakers had tried to “circumvent state and federal courts" with the new version, which was backed by some of the same key lawmakers as in 2013.

Voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment by 55 per cent in 2018 to require voter photo ID.

The voter ID law would have come into effect for the 3 March Democratic presidential primary.

Reverend T Anthony Spearman, the president of North Carolina’s NAACP, said he was “overjoyed” by the decision.

“Quite frankly, tears are coming to my eyes as I read the decision,” Mr Spearman said.

“I hope it is something that will encourage people who have not exercised their right to vote to cast their votes.”

Judge Biggs also rejected an argument by lawmakers that they had to enact the ID law because voters had approved the constitutional amendment.

“While the legislature may [have] had to pass some form of photo voter ID law, it did not have to enact one which suffers from impermissible defects,” she wrote.

Republican lawmakers have called Judge Biggs' ruling "inappropriate" and urged the state’s Department of Justice to seek a stay of the temporary injunction.

Additional reporting by AP

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