A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld North Carolina’s law requiring voters to present photo identification before casting ballots, even as it acknowledged the state’s “long and shameful history of race-based voter suppression.”
A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said North Carolina’s past practice does not indefinitely prevent the state from enacting new voting restrictions.
The panel said a lower-court judge had improperly considered the state’s “past conduct to bear so heavily on its later acts that it was virtually impossible for it to pass a voter-ID law that meets constitutional muster,” according to the opinion from Judge Julius N. Richardson, a nominee of President Trump.
Richardson was joined by Judges A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., also a Trump nominee, and Pamela A. Harris, a nominee of President Barack Obama.
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The 4th Circuit was reviewing a district-court decision that said North Carolina’s 2018 photo ID law would probably have a disproportionate effect on African America voters in the state. The identification requirement had been blocked by federal and state judges, and it did not apply in the November election. The separate state case is pending.
The federal lawsuit, brought by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, is the latest North Carolina election measure scrutinized in court. The law was passed after the 4th Circuit struck down a separate set of voting rules that the court said in 2016 deliberately undercut the political power of Black voters and would “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
In its 29-page ruling, the appeals court said Wednesday that the district court failed to give lawmakers the benefit of the doubt and did not provide “the presumption of legislative good faith” as required.
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The 2018 law was enacted after a supermajority of the legislature overrode the governor’s veto. North Carolina voters also approved a ballot measure creating a constitutional requirement that voters present a photo ID.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) had urged the judges to prevent the measure, known as S.B. 824, from taking effect over objections from Republican legislative leaders. He said the law would disenfranchise minority voters, who are less likely to possess the required identification.
But the court found that the 2018 law is “more protective of the right to vote” than other states’ voter ID laws that courts have approved, including in Virginia and South Carolina.
State House Speaker Tim Moore (R), a sponsor of the constitutional amendment, said in a statement Wednesday, “Now that a federal appeals court has approved North Carolina’s voter ID law and constitutional amendment, they must be implemented for the next election cycle in our state.”
Eighteen states ask for a photo ID to cast ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seventeen other states also accept non-photo identification such as a bank statement with a name and address.