Federal Court Denies NAACP Preliminary Injunction in North Carolina Voter ID Case

Winston Salem-Journal:

A federal judge denied a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s photo ID requirement Friday.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder means that voters will have to show a photo ID during the March 15 primary. Early voting begins in that primary, which includes candidates for U.S. president, on March 3.

UPDATE: The judge’s 54-page opinion and order is here.

In a detailed opinion, the court concludes: “On the present record, NAACP Plaintiffs have failed to clearly demonstrate that they are likely to succeed on the merits or that the balance of the equities or public interest favors an injunction.”

The court found that with the reasonable impediment exemption to the law, the law is not all that burdensome and is therefore unlikely to be found to be illegal:

When the State did not have a reasonable impediment exception, NAACP Plaintiffs claimed the burden imposed on the socioeconomically disadvantaged was too severe. Now that the State has sought to accommodate these voters with the reasonable impediment exception, Plaintiffs claim that the exception swallows the rule and that the State need not have a photo-ID requirement. This court finds any alleged diminution in achieving the State’s purported interest to be more than offset by the reduction of burden achieved by the reasonable impediment exception.

Significantly for how the district court is going to decide not only the voter id challenge, but the challenge to North Carolina’s restrictive voter rule overall, the court looks likely to reject claims that the law was enacted with an unconstitutional racially discriminatory purpose:

Finally, NAACP Plaintiffs seek to enjoin the photo-ID provision of SL 2013-381 on the grounds it was adopted with discriminatory intent. The question of discriminatory intent in these cases – including as it related to the photo-ID requirement – was fully tried by this court in July 2015. As noted above, the record in that case is extensive (over 20,000 pages), and the court is working diligently to decide all claims related to all of the other challenged provisions of SL 2013-381. Thus, the court is not prepared to definitively resolve that claim here, especially since evidence as to the reasonable impediment exception has yet to be heard at trial. But the court has considered all evidence of intent (including that related to other the challenged provisions) and can say that, based on its current review, NAACP Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on the merits of the photo-ID intent claim.

I think:

  1. This denial of a preliminary injunction is unlikely to be reversed on appeal, given this record.
  2. This is a careful, thoughtful opinion, which shows the judge making a serious effort to deal with the evidence.
  3. Although the court does not express a view on the other issues in the case, or on the section 2 claims generally, if I were a betting person I’m guessing this judge is likely to reject the other challenges to North Carolina’s law (which is consistent with the impression I had from reading about the arguments over the summer), leaving the potential for a better result in the 4th Circuit (perhaps ultimately to be reviewed by the Supreme Court).  But this is speculative on my part at this time.

This post has been updated.

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