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Court Basically Calls North Carolina Racist, Strikes Down Voter Suppression Laws

Illustration for article titled Court Basically Calls North Carolina Racist, Strikes Down Voter Suppression Lawsem/em

Basically, the electoral map doesn’t work for Donald Trump if he can’t win North Carolina. North Carolina was a solidly Republican state, until Barack Obama came along and won the state in 2008. He lost it in 2012, but got very close.

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In an attempt to take back the state, Republican state legislators — the same people that brought you HB2 that placed restrictions on who could go to which bathrooms — enacted voter suppression laws in 2013. Limitations were placed on early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration.

It was all pretty racist. It was all designed to suppress the votes of black and brown people who carried Obama in the state. Today, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said so. From Politico:

“The record makes clear that the historical origin of the challenged provisions in this statute is not the innocuous back-and-forth of routine partisan struggle that the State suggests and that the district court accepted,” Judge Diana Motz wrote on behalf of Judges James Wynn and Henry Floyd. “Rather, the General Assembly enacted them in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting. The district court clearly erred in ignoring or dismissing this historical background evidence, all of which supports a finding of discriminatory intent.”

The court’s opinion bluntly described the legislation as a clear effort to suppress the black vote.

“We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history,” Motz added.

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That’s a stunning rebuke.

And yet, not a surprising one. North Carolina obviously enacted their voter laws in response to black turnout. The court just called them on it.

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North Carolina can appeal the case to the full 4th Circuit or to the Supreme Court. From Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog:

North Carolina could first go to the Supreme Court on an emergency basis to seek a stay of the 4th Circuit order, which if successful would have the effect of putting some of the provisions, like voter id, back into effect. Some of the others were blocked by a preliminary injunction, so a SCOTUS order would have them go into effect for the first time.

I think such emergency relief is unlikely. The Court is divided 4-4 on ideological lines about these voter id and similar laws. At best NC could hope for 4 votes for emergency relief, unless the argument was one about timing (though I think we are far enough from the election that a timing argument would not work).

North Carolina could also file a cert. petition, and the timeline there for responses and a Supreme Court decision whether or not to hear the case could take longer. There is certainly a meaty question in the case—how to decide when a jurisdiction has a racially discriminatory intent when race and party so intersect, especially in the South?—but here too, the prospect of a 4-4 SCOTUS tie looms, and it is hard to see whether the Justices will be willing to bite.

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Still, North Carolina Republicans have decided that racially motivated voter suppression is the hill they want to die on. State Senate leader Phil Berger, and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, issued this statement:

Since today’s decision by three partisan Democrats ignores legal precedent, ignores the fact that other federal courts have used North Carolina’s law as a model, and ignores the fact that a majority of other states have similar protections in place, we can only wonder if the intent is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper to steal the election. We will obviously be appealing this politically-motivated decision to the Supreme Court.

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Again, Trump can lose the election with North Carolina, but he likely can’t win without it. High turnout from the minority communities these laws were targeted against will be they key to the state.

It makes sense, politically, for Republicans to do anything they can to suppress that vote in order to elect Donald Trump. But, dragging out the attempt to disenfranchise people, over a court order, can sometimes have the opposite effect.

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