A federal appeals court on Friday struck down the heart of a North Carolina voting law seen as the strictest in the nation, finding that Republican lawmakers intentionally discriminated against African-Americans when they passed it. A divided 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the measure's provisions "target African-Americans with almost surgical precision."
Voting-rights advocates have had a pretty encouraging month. As discussed the other day, last Tuesday, a federal court issued a ruling mitigating some of the voter-ID restrictions imposed by Wisconsin Republicans. A day later, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals shot down part of Texas’ voter-suppression campaign. By Friday, a federal court issued an injunction blocking a Michigan GOP measure banning straight-ticket voting in the state.
But perhaps no recent ruling is as important as the one handed down this afternoon. MSNBC's Zach Roth, who has a new book out on voting rights, published this report:
Keep in mind, few states were as brutal in imposing new voting restrictions as North Carolina. Not long after taking office, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) partnered with the state's Republican-run legislature to put all kinds of new hurdles between North Carolinians and the ballot box: Roth's report noted that GOP officials "imposed a voter ID requirement, cut early voting opportunities, eliminated same-day voter registration and banned out-of-precinct voting, among other provisions."
By the state's own admission, these voting restrictions disproportionately affected the state's African-American population.
The 4th Circuit wasn't impressed with North Carolina's brazenness. "The only clear factor linking these various 'reforms' is their impact on African American voters," the appeals court ruling said, adding, "[W]e can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent."
The decision went on to say, "We recognize that elections have consequences, but winning an election does not empower anyone in any party to engage in purposeful racial discrimination."
The ruling also notes that North Carolina Republicans, who scrapped early-voting opportunities for reasons even they couldn't explain, specifically sought data on racial breakdowns in early voting, then eliminated those days most likely to be used by African-American voters.
It's a safe bet that GOP officials in the state, eager to use these restrictions to keep Democrats from winning elections, will appeal today's decision.