A federal appeals court on Friday struggled with how to weigh North Carolina’s history of discriminatory voting restrictions while examining the state’s latest election law that requires voters to present photo identification before casting ballots.
Ahead of oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) urged the judges to prevent the measure, known as S.B. 824, from taking effect over objections from Republican legislative leaders.
“Lifting the injunction now would be disastrous,” lawyers for the governor told the judges in court filings. “The brunt would be borne by the same voters whom S.B. 824 targeted for disenfranchisement in the first place: minority voters who are both least likely to possess photo IDs that satisfy S.B. 824 and most vulnerable to COVID-19.”
The photo ID requirement is the latest in a series of North Carolina election measures scrutinized in court. The law was passed after the 4th Circuit struck down a separate set of voting rules that the court said in 2016 deliberately undercut the political power of Black voters and “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
The three judges hearing the case — Pamela Harris, Julius N. Richardson and A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. — asked lawyers on both sides how they should account for the state’s political past when considering the current law.
“I understand that we can’t just ignore that. At the same time,” said Harris, a nominee of President Barack Obama, “the fact that a legislature passes one voter law with a discriminatory intent doesn’t forever disable a legislature from passing a voter ID law.” And she said, “this one is better. It has these ameliorative features that the prior law didn’t have.”