Intent to discriminate was a “primary motivating factor” behind the voter ID law enacted in 2018 by North Carolina’s Republican legislature, as per the judgment of a three-judge panel of the state’s Court of Appeals in a ruling issued Tuesday. The decision, which comes after a federal court in a separate case had already blocked the voter mandate at least through this year’s primary elections, said that the voter ID requirements crafted by Republicans to implement a voter referendum “are likely to disproportionately impact African-American voters to their detriment.” The law requires acceptable ID to vote but pointedly excludes types of identification disproportionately held by African Americans.
In the Florida case, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Wednesday upheld a preliminary injunction blocking a law that undermined a constitutional amendment approved by voters, which restored voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people with felony convictions. Republicans who had opposed the ballot measure said “clarifying” legislation was needed and, egged on by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), included the requirement that felons pay off all court fines, fees and restitution before regaining the right to vote. A group of 17 plaintiffs with felony convictions sued, and U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in October that it is unconstitutional to deny the right to vote to felons who are “genuinely unable” to pay financial obligations.
“The long and short of it is that once a state provides an avenue to ending the punishment of disenfranchisement — as the voters of Florida plainly did — it must do so consonant with the principles of equal protection and it may not erect a wealth barrier absent a justification sufficient to overcome heightened scrutiny,” the appeals court wrote in a unanimous ruling that serves as a rebuke to Republicans. Unfortunately, the ruling applies only to the 17 felons who sued. So, while North Carolina’s ID law appears to have been derailed before voters go to the polls in November, there may not be an immediate impact in Florida. Mr. DeSantis said the state will seek a review from the full court, and a trial on the issue is set to begin this spring.
It is shortsighted to view the rulings through the sole lens of the next election. In both cases, the courts saw through the subterfuge used by Republicans to interfere with voting. In doing so, they made a powerful statement about American values.