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Federal appeals court upholds North Carolina voter identification law
Panel rules 2018 referendum result is legal
Published Wednesday, December 2, 2020 4:00 pm
by Herbert L. White

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday voted unanimously to reverse a district court judge's decision to block North Carolina's voter ID law.

Voter ID is a step closer to reality in North Carolina elections.

A three-judge federal appeals court sided today with legislative Republicans by ruling unanimously to reinstate voter identification, which North Carolina voters approved in a 2018 referendum. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed District Court Judge Loretta Biggs’ decision to strike down the law.

“There’s legitimate concern today about undermining trust in democracy,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said in a statement. “When an activist judge overturns the will of millions of North Carolinians who added a voter ID requirement to their own constitution and rests her lawless opinion on political talking points and ‘fundamental legal errors,’ that’s destabilizing. That is what erodes confidence in government.”

The North Carolina NAACP filed suit after the 2018 referendum to strike down voter ID, which Biggs agreed. Republican appealed to the 4th Circuit, which found “fundamental legal errors that permeate” Biggs’ decision. Aside from North Carolina, 35 states have some form of voter ID.

The federal court’s preliminary ruling moves voter ID closer to implementation but an injunction from a challenge in state court – Holmes v. Moore – is still in place. Both Holmes and NAACP v. Cooper are scheduled to go to trial in 2021 for final resolution.

“NC NAACP is reviewing this decision and we are considering all appellate options,” said Irv Joyner, the state NAACP’s counsel. “We steadfastly believe that the Honorable Judge Biggs’ findings and determinations were correct at the preliminary injunction phase.  Nonetheless, under the reasoning of the decision today, NC NAACP plaintiffs’ evidence will also prevail at trial on the full merits and we look forward to the fight for justice ahead.”

In 2013, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a photo ID requirement that was struck down in 2016 by a federal appeals court. Republicans authorized a referendum in 2018 as part of the state constitution, which passed with 55% of ballots cast and lawmakers passed a separate law in December of that year to implement the amendment.

“A majority of North Carolina voters and their elected representatives voted to adopt Voter ID,” North Carolina Republican Party spokesman Tim Wigginton said in a statement. “This ruling reinforces the fundamental principle of representative government that the people make the law, not judges. The proper role of the judiciary is to interpret the law as written, not as they wish it should be.”

Biggs wrote in her decision the 2018 referendum was no different than the 2013 law because both were approved with racial bias in mind. Legislators were given a statistical analysis of voter behavior before passing the first voter identification law and used that data to target African Americans, the court ruled. The same key lawmakers, Biggs wrote, backed the second bill, with input from then-Sen. Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat.


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