DOJ Files Lawsuit Against North Carolina’s 'Discriminatory' Voter ID Law

Posted: Jul 07, 2014 3:45 PM
DOJ Files Lawsuit Against North Carolina’s 'Discriminatory' Voter ID Law

Are voter ID laws inherently racist? Do they curtail voting rights? Those are questions a North Carolina judge will ultimately determine sometime next July.

To recap, the North Carolina state legislature passed a law in 2013 that, among other things, abolished same-day voter registration and instituted a voter ID provision. Naturally, it has been pilloried by both civil rights groups and activists as discriminatory.

Such provisions limit access to the right to vote, they argue, and therefore must be struck down to preserve the integrity of elections held in the state:

A North Carolina law passed last year that requires voters to present photo identification and eliminates same-day voter registration has been called one of the farthest-reaching overhauls to election rules in the country. Now a judge will decide whether it will stay that way.

Lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice, the North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union will argue the case against state lawyers over the law in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem on Monday. U.S. attorneys and civil rights groups are asking a judge for a preliminary injunction to temporarily delay implementation of parts of the law. The hearing is a prelude to a trial scheduled for July 2015 where a judge will determine whether to uphold or strike down the law.

Civil rights advocates argue North Carolina has a long history of implementing measures — like poll taxes and tests — to hinder African-Americans, the poor and the elderly from voting. Opponents of the law say it will hurt hundreds of thousands of people who want to vote.

“This is a full assault on the franchise of voting,” said state NAACP President Rev. William Barber.

The judge in the preliminary injunction case Monday will not rule on whether to uphold or strike down the whole law with the voter ID mandate. Instead, he will decide what, if any, specific parts should be delayed until a final decision on the law is made in 2015.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General Eric Holder explicitly said that the Department of Justice was filing the lawsuit because the new law will make it harder for African-Americans to exercise their right to vote:

“The state legislature took extremely aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African-Americans,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit Monday. “This is an intentional step to break a system that was working and it defies common sense.”

The threat of voter suppression, both real and imagined, is embedded in the hearts of many North Carolinians. The Tar Heel State didn’t abolish the poll tax until 1920, and literacy tests existed in some form or another until at least 1970, the Guardian reports. Nonetheless, Republicans in the state (including Governor Pat McCrory) maintain that voter ID laws are “common sense” and necessary -- a point, incidentally, he made the very same day he signed the legislation into law:

“You need a photo ID to board an airplane, to cash a check, or even apply for most government benefits. In fact, just recently both Democrats and Republicans joined together to require a valid, government photo ID to buy Sudafed at your local corner drug store. Our right to vote deserves similar protection. In fact, for voters who may not even have a photo ID, they can get one at no charge, at a nearby DMV office throughout the state.”

The argument, then, is if one needs a photo ID to purchase a drug as common as Sudafed, shouldn’t one also need a photo ID to cast a ballot? At any rate, the law won't be fully implemented until the 2016 presidential election -- but it's fair to say that the legal challenges are already starting to pile up.