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North Carolina's voting restrictions cleared by federal court

It wasn't a ruling on the merits, per se, but North Carolina's harsh voting restrictions will be in place for this year's statewide elections.
Voters stand in line before sunrise to cast their votes at a polling precinct in Apex, N.C.
Voters stand in line before sunrise to cast their votes at a polling precinct in Apex, N.C.
Since 2011, Republican policymakers in much of the country imposed sweeping restrictions on voting, but arguably no state was quite as ferocious on this front as North Carolina. Led by Gov. Pat McCrory, GOP policymakers slashed early voting, placed new limitations on voter-registration drives, made it harder for students to vote (and even register to vote), ended same-day registration during the early voting period, and made it easier for vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters.
All of these measures, according to the state's own numbers, disproportionately affect African-American voters.
Voting-rights advocates hoped the courts would intervene to block implementation of the new restrictions, but Rachel Kleinman and Zack Roth reported that this effort has, for now, come up short.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder on Friday ruled that two provisions of North Carolina's controversial voting law -- which challengers argue infringe the democratic process -- will remain in effect until the law goes to trial in 2015. The same judge, meanwhile, also struck a blow against the state, rejecting its request to avoid a full trial. The ACLU and other civil rights groups are challenging North Carolina's sweeping voting law, specifically taking aim at sections that eliminate a week of early voting and end same-day registration, claiming those provisions violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by placing an undue burden on the right to vote and discriminating against African-American voters.

The entirety of the ruling is online here (pdf). Judge Schroeder is a George W. Bush appointee.
It's worth noting that if the entirety of the Voting Rights Act were in effect, these voting restrictions wouldn't have been approved in the first place, but a narrow Supreme Court majority gutted the civil-rights-era law last summer.
Also keep in mind that Friday's ruling was not an endorsement of the state's new barriers to the ballot box, but rather, a ruling that said the controversy will go to trial, at which time the judge will consider the case on the merits.
The problem, of course, is that there will be statewide elections between now and then.
Rick Hasen put together a detailed review of Friday's ruling and concluded:

[T]his is an opinion in which the court expressed great skepticism about the use of either Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act or the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause to protect voting rights in a strong way. If this ruling stands, it shows that Section 2 and the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause are poor substitutes in protecting voting rights for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court gutted in its Shelby County opinion from last year.

Ian Millhiser has more.