RALEIGH (WTVD) -- A panel of judges on Friday permanently threw out North Carolina's law requiring a photo ID to vote, the latest in a decade of courtroom defeats for Republican legislators.
The 2-1 decision ruled the 2018 law on Voter ID, Senate Bill 824, was unconstitutional because it unfairly targeted African American voters and thus violated the state's Equal Protection Clause.
"The Republican majority 'targeted voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the majority party,'" Hon. Vince M. Rozier, Jr and Hon. Michael J. O'Foghludha wrote in their opinion, citing a previous court ruling. "Even if done for partisan ends, that constitutes racial discrimination."
North Carolina voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment enshrining the concept of requiring photo identification to cast a ballot, but the General Assembly would have to spell out exactly which IDs would be accepted and how that process would work.
The 2018 ballot measure was supported by 56% of North Carolina voters.
"Once again, liberal judges have defied the will of North Carolinians on election integrity," said Sam Hayes, General Counsel for North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore. "Voters of this state have repeatedly supported a voter ID requirement - going so far as to enshrine it in our state constitution. Senate Bill 824 is one of the most generous in the country, and it was modeled on those of other states. At trial, plaintiffs could not produce a single witness who would be unable to vote because of the law."
Voters in 2018, moreover, chose a makeup of the North Carolina General Assembly that for the first time in several years took away the NCGOP's veto-proof majorities. Republican leaders, however, utilized the lame-duck session to push through SB 824 knowing it could withstand a veto from Governor Cooper, which was indeed overridden.
"Our goal is to defend against potential voter fraud but not make it difficult to vote," Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth and Yadkin counties, said at the time. "We've been exceptionally transparent and no one will be disenfranchised from voting."
Two Democrats -- Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenberg, and Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, Lenoir, Pitt & Wayne -- joined Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the bill in the initial votes, with Ford also voting to sustain the veto.
That fact was cited by the dissenting judge, Hon. Nathaniel J. Poovey, who argued, "plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence to suggest that our legislature acted with a racially discriminatory intent."
"In his dissent, Judge Poovey noted that "(n)ot one scintilla of evidence was introduced during this trial that any legislator acted with racially discriminatory intent," Hayes said. "In fact, the bill was co-sponsored by African-American State Senator Joel Ford. This fight is far from over. We look forward to appealing this partisan ruling on behalf of the people of North Carolina."
According to SB824, college IDs would be accepted to vote, including community colleges and private universities. Municipal government IDs that meet state requirements would also be accepted, along with driver's licenses, military IDs and tribal enrollment cards.
Friday's ruling from Wake County Superior Court came nearly 20 months after a U.S. district court judge blocked the law from taking effect for the 2020 election.
SB 824, moreover, was Republicans' second try to pass a voter ID law after its 2013 version signed by then-Gov. Pat McCrory was resoundingly lambasted by state and federal courts. The 2016 ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the 2013 law violated the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act by targeting black voters "with almost surgical precision."
The NAACP, a prominent plaintiff in the cases, is simultaneously continuing more lawsuits, including against the Voter ID amendment itself despite its being passed by voters. In one case now headed to the State Supreme Court, the NAACP argues the amendments themselves are illegitimate because they were placed on the ballot by what it considers a racially-gerrymandered General Assembly.
"For all their talk about a secure democracy, the left, with an able assist from the judiciary, is doing their best to undermine it. Today, a partisan court blocked the will of a majority of North Carolinians who amended their Constitution to require photo voter ID," said Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus. "The North Carolina Constitution requires photo voter ID. Today, a court decided requiring photo voter ID violates that same Constitution. The court absurdly concluded that a law sponsored by an African American Democrat was designed to harm African American voters. It's unbelievable."
Newton added that photo voter ID laws are designed to "bolster confidence in elections" amd said Republicans will appeal the case.