Judge Strikes Down NC Voter ID Law 02/23 10:19
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A North Carolina judge on Friday voided new state
mandates requiring photo identification to vote and also limiting income tax
rates. He ruled the GOP-controlled legislature lacked authority to put those
constitutional amendments on the ballot because lawmakers had been elected from
racially-biased districts two years earlier.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins sided with the state NAACP,
which had argued that General Assembly was "illegally constituted" because
federal judges had declared the district maps used in the 2016 legislative
elections illegal racial gerrymanders.
The civil rights group had challenged four amendments, but only two of
those--- the voter ID and the income tax cap --- were approved by majorities of
voters in November.
"An illegally constituted General Assembly does not represent the people of
North Carolina and is therefore not empowered to pass legislation that would
amend the state's constitution," Collins wrote in his order cancelling the two
amendments and the laws that put them on the ballot.
The NAACP lauded the decision. While nearly 30 legislative districts had
been struck down by federal courts, the legislature ultimately redrew lines for
two-thirds of the General Assembly's 170 districts. Democrats and their allies
were particularly incensed over the voter ID requirement, calling it an
unnecessary obstacle for people to vote.
"We are delighted that the acts of the previous majority, which came to
power through the use of racially discriminatory maps, have been checked,"
state NAACP president Rev. T. Anthony Spearman said in a news release.
But Republican legislative leaders, flabbergasted by the decision, vowed to
appeal quickly and seek to delay the judge's decision. In earlier legal
arguments last summer, lawyers for the GOP leaders sued by the NAACP said the
edition of the General Assembly that put the amendments on the ballot was a
lawful governing body. They also pointed out then that federal judges allowed
the 2016 elections to proceed under the maps at issue.
By Collins' logic, Senate leader Phil Berger's office said in a statement,
all laws approved from June 2017, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the
old maps, to last December could be voided, too.
"One man with a political axe to grind invalidated millions of votes and
potentially dozens of laws, including the state budget," Sen. Ralph Hise, a
Mitchell County Republican, said in referring to Collins, a registered Democrat.
Legislators passed a law in December implementing the voter ID amendment
that would require people to use one of several photo identification cards when
they vote in person. But it also included many exceptions. Still, critics say
the law would disproportionately harm minority citizens and the poor. GOP
leaders, who contend photo ID builds public confidence in elections, decided to
try to add the voter ID mandate to the constitution after federal judges struck
down a wide-ranging election law that included the requirement and scaled back
early in-person voting.
Collins wrote the "unconstitutional racial gerrymander tainted" the
three-fifth majorities in each chamber necessary to submit the amendments to
voters. He said that amounted to "breaking the requisite chain of popular
sovereignty between North Carolina citizens and their representatives."
The other amendment struck down lowered the cap on state income tax rates
from 10 percent to 7 percent. GOP supporters portrayed the proposal as a way to
keep recent GOP laws cutting tax rates in place after they left office.
The case could ultimate reach the state Supreme Court. The seven-member body
is composed of at least five registered Democrats. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper,
who opposed all six amendments ultimately put on the November ballot, soon must
fill a vacancy on the court.