North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory wants a federal court to throw out a lawsuit against his restrictive voting measure–but he isn’t offering a reason why. McCrory, a Republican, also is telling a top Democratic state official to keep quiet about his opposition to the controversial law.
The fate of the legal challenge to North Carolina’s voting law could offer a key indicator of whether existing protections are strong enough to stop the rash of GOP efforts to make voting more difficult, now that the Supreme Court has invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act.
On Monday, McCrory and the state board of elections issued a formal response to an NAACP suit filed in August against North Carolina’s law. McCrory's filing asked a federal court to dismiss the suit, but made no attempt to rebut the lawsuit’s claims or explain why the law is needed. Instead, it simply repeated multiple times that the governor and the board of elections “deny the allegations” contained in the suit.
The bare-bones approach is likely an effort by the governor’s legal team to avoid tipping its hand before going to court. But voting-rights advocates seized on the filing to press their case against the law.
“It is telling that, in all 20 pages of North Carolina’s answer to our lawsuit challenging this onerous voter suppression law, the state not only failed to present anything new, but they also offered no justification for the measure,” Penda Hair, the co-director of The Advancement Project, which worked with the NAACP to bring the lawsuit, said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “Instead their response is to simply say that our case should be dismissed, and that we should be sent away. Unfortunately for Gov. McCrory and his allies in the General Assembly, that is not going to happen.”
The Republican-backed law, signed by McCrory over the summer, is perhaps the nation’s most restrictive. In addition to requiring a narrow range of state-issued photo IDs, it cuts back on early voting, ends same-day voter registration, and scraps a popular pre-registration program for high-school students, among other provisions.
Lawsuits filed by the NAACP and the U.S. Justice Department allege that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 doesn’t require proof of intentional racial discrimination, as some commentary around the case, and a similar challenge to Texas' voter ID law, has assumed. Rather, it requires proof that the law has a discriminatory result—that is, that it makes it harder for racial minorities than whites to vote—a much easier lift for the plaintiffs. They note that in North Carolina and elsewhere, blacks are far more likely than whites to lack a photo ID, and to take advantage of early voting and same-day registration.
“It’s written almost with surgical precision to go after voters of color,” Hair told reporters on a conference call Monday, referring to North Carolina's law.
Still, the NAACP lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution by intentionally discriminating against minorities. It notes that Republicans were aware of evidence that the law would make voting harder for minorities but went ahead anyway. That kind of prior knowledge is often used in such cases to establish intent, Hair said Monday.
Despite his abbreviated response in court, McCrory isn't staying quiet about his support for the law. In comments made during an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation Monday, he argued that his state still makes voting easier than many others.
“New York does not have early voting. North Carolina does,” McCrory said. “And I notice Eric Holder is not suing the state of New York.”
McCrory also took a shot at Roy Cooper, the state’s Democratic Attorney General. Cooper, seen as a potential candidate for governor in 2016, has spoken out recently about the law, but said he’ll defend it in court, as his position requires.
“He can have his personal opinion but as a lawyer he should not publicize your personal opinion if you're going to be defending the people who are promoting this commonsense law," McCrory said of Cooper. "Good lawyers don't do that."
A PPP poll in August found just 39% of North Carolinians favor the voting law, with 50% opposed.
Additional reporting by Suzy Khimm