It took federal judge Thomas D. Schroeder 485 pages to explain why North Carolina’s super-strict voter identification law does not place an unconstitutional burden on the state’s would-be voters. The decision could pave the way for other states to implement equally restrictive voter laws—and for courts to uphold them.
In January, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina took up the suit, which was lead by the U.S. Department of Justice, the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina. The plaintiffs argued that the law—which narrowly defines the identification that is acceptable at the voting booth—violates the 14th Amendment, the 26th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act, and was expressly passed to disenfranchise the people of color who are statistically less likely to possess said identification.
But Schroeder disagreed, opting to leave the voter identification requirement intact. That means North Carolina voters still cannot use student or public employer IDs to vote. And, as The New York Times reports, the opinion also “upheld the repeal of a provision that allowed people to register and vote on the same day. It also upheld a seven-day reduction in the early-voting period; the end of preregistration, which allowed some people to sign up before their 18th birthdays; and the repeal of a provision that allowed for the counting of ballots cast outside voters’ home precinct.”
From the opinion:
This court cannot find an inequality of opportunity simply because educational and socioeconomic disparities suggest one might exist—there must actually be an inequality of opportunity. The evidence shows that, like all voters, African Americans are not only capable of adjusting, but have adjusted. … It is a given that government should endeavor to make it as easy as practicable to exercise the right to vote. But the fact that voting can almost always be made easier does not render a state’s failure to do so, or a state’s repeal of a convenience or “fail-safe,” unlawful or unconstitutional per se.
The plaintiffs were not happy with the decision, and pledged to continue fighting the law. “The continuation of H.B. 589’s restrictive provisions is an affront to democracy,” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, said in a press release sent to Colorlines. “Through widespread actions, rallies, marches and protests, we have said all along that we would accept no less than unabridged access to the ballot for all eligible voters. Just like those who carried on before us, we will continue our movement challenging regressive and discriminatory voter suppression tactics on behalf of African Americans, Latinos, seniors, students and all those for whom democracy has been denied.”
And Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice told The Times: “We’re disappointed in the ruling, reviewing the decision carefully and evaluating our options.”
Meanwhile, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory—who has been in the news for signing an anti-trans law—issued a statement saying that the ruling proves the law is “not only common-sense, it’s constitutional.” He went on to say, “Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID and thankfully a federal court has ensured our citizens will have the same protection for their basic right to vote.”