North Carolina's voter ID law struck down
© Getty

The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday struck down parts of a North Carolina law requiring voters to show identification in order to cast a ballot, the latest blow to a new round of contentious laws aimed at rewriting election rules.

In the 83-page ruling, the court overturned a district court ruling that had upheld parts of North Carolina’s massive 2013 overhaul of election law. The circuit court said the lower court had erred in overlooking “the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Opponents of voter identification laws say they disproportionately affect low-income and minority voters. North Carolina’s measure reduced the number of early-voting days in the state, ended same-day voter registration and curtailed out-of-precinct voting, in which voters can cast provisional ballots if they show up at the wrong polling location.

The three-judge panel agreed with the NAACP, the Justice Department and other groups that sued over the law.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” U.S. Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote.

North Carolina Republicans vowed to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

“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 ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMatt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' What to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch MORE and Roy Cooper to steal the election,” state Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a joint statement. “We will obviously be appealing this politically-motivated decision to the Supreme Court.”

The ruling could have major repercussions for the presidential election, with North Carolina considered one of the top battlegrounds in the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE.

Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said the ruling could threaten the entire law and could put North Carolina’s election rules back under federal supervision, even after the Supreme Court struck down related parts of the Voting Rights Act.

“The key part of the holding is that North Carolina acted with racially discriminatory intent,” Hasen wrote on his Election Law Blog.

The ruling is the third major victory for opponents of new voter identification laws in recent weeks. Last week, a federal district court judge in Milwaukee curtailed some elements of Wisconsin’s voter identification law. And the 5th Circuit Court overturned a Texas law requiring voters to show identification when they get to the polls.

North Carolina’s attorney general could decide to appeal the decision to either the entire bench of the 4th Circuit or to the Supreme Court. Election law experts said the sweeping ruling issued by the three-judge panel on Friday was unlikely to be overturned, though they cautioned a major showdown on voter identification rules is on the horizon.

“We’ve got a collision coming here,” said Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who has testified in voting rights cases in the past. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is in collision as well.”

The federal lawsuit isn’t the only litigation challenging North Carolina’s 2013 voting law. A state trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 26. Those challenging the law say they will present evidence showing 1,400 eligible voters were improperly denied ballots in this year’s primary.

— Updated at 4:16 p.m.