A U.S. District judge has ruled that Republican legislators in North Carolina must provide documents revealing their work in passing and implementing a radical election reform bill which, when it was passed last year, was described by opponents as the "worse-than-anyone-would-have-ever-imagined voter suppression bill."
Late last week, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake issued an Order [PDF] in which she rejected a blanket refusal by NC Republican state legislators to provide any documents that relate to the question of whether the sweeping legislation known as the Voter Information Reform Act ("VIVA" aka HB 589) amounted to nothing less than a racially-motivated attempt to deprive African-Americans of their constitutional right to vote.
As we observed when the law was hastily enacted last year, among the law's myriad ways of making registration and voting much more difficult, VIVA includes "draconian polling place Photo ID restrictions (despite the absence of any evidence of polling place impersonation in the state), shortens the early voting period and eliminates NC's very successful same-day voter registration program."
VIVA was quickly passed last year on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial, 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The decision resulted in the gutting of a central provision of the federal Voting Rights Act. Before that, most of the measures in VIVA could not have taken effect unless they received advance approval from either the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) or a federal court. Such approval could have been obtained only if NC established that VIVA was neither intended to nor would have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or being the member of a language minority.
The new ruling may help plaintiffs establish violations of both the still-standing elements of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the order to compel documentation concerning the law's genesis in NC, if upheld, could also have a broader national significance...