Last week, civil rights groups filed two lawsuits in a North Carolina U.S. District Court, seeking to block what Brad Friedman aptly described as "the most extreme anti-voter bill passed by any state since the Jim Crow Era."
The Tar Heel State has a sordid history of official discrimination, a history that includes 30 successful challenges to discriminatory voting laws under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) over the past 30 years. Until the recent Republican takeover of the state, NC had become somewhat more progressive in the area of election law, even allowing for same day registration and voting which is lacking in even most of the more progressive states in the union.
Then, everything changed. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a sweeping new election "reform" bill. The breadth the new law is unprecedented. It targets "nearly every aspect of the voting process," according to one of the new lawsuits. Both complaints allege that the newly minted Voter Information Verification Act ("VIVA" aka HB 589) reflects nothing less than a deliberate, racially-motivated attempt to deprive African-Americans of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.
The League also filed a separate legal challenge in state court, Currie v. North Carolina [PDF]. The state case alleges that VIVA’s polling place Photo ID restrictions violate the NC Constitution, which treats voting as a "fundamental right." (A legal analysis of the state challenge will be covered in a subsequent article).
Earlier this Summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court carved out the very heart of the federal Voting Right Act with their 5 to 4 Shelby County v. Holder decision, they acknowledged that their ruling "in no way affects the permanent nationwide ban on racial discrimination." The controversial decision rejected the formula established by Congress in the VRA's Section 4, used to identify jurisdictions to be covered by the Act's Section 5 requirement for those covered jurisdictions to receive preclearance from the DoJ or a U.S. District Court before enacting any new election-related laws. The SCOTUS decision did not, however, eliminate the right of individuals, civil rights organizations, or the DoJ to file lawsuits seeking to block discriminatory laws under the VRA's Section 2, which bars discrimination in all 50 states.
Therefore, the new federal lawsuits filed in NC do not, and need not, challenge the Shelby County decision. Their factual allegations, however, suggest that Chief Justice John Roberts was in grave error when asserting, on behalf of the Court's right-wing majority, that "the conditions that originally justified [Section 5 preclearance] no longer characterize voting in covered jurisdictions"...