Appeals Court Upholds North Carolina’s Voter ID Law

December 3, 2020 Updated: December 3, 2020

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Wednesday reversed a lower court’s block on North Carolina’s 2018 voter ID law.

Citing North Carolina legislature’s “history of racial discrimination and voter suppression,” District Judge Loretta Biggs in December 2019 issued an injunction blocking the newest version of voter ID law, which prevented election officials from requiring voters to provide identification in the 2020 election.

The federal appeals court’s opinion, delivered by Trump-appointed Circuit Judge Julius Richardson, said that Biggs’s ruling has “fundamental legal errors” that penalized the lawmakers who passed the law “because of who they are, instead of what they did.”

Richardson, joined by Circuit Judges Pamela Harris, an Obama appointee, and Marvin Quattlebaum, a Trump appointee, said that Biggs didn’t provide enough evidence that the 2018 voter ID requirement was passed with the intent of racial discrimination, even though similar legislature in history has obstructed minorities from voting.

“The outcome hinges on the answer to a simple question: How much does the past matter?” the court opinion (pdf) read. “A legislature’s past acts do not condemn the acts of a later legislature, which we must presume acts in good faith.”

“So because we find that the district court improperly disregarded this principle by reversing the burden of proof and failing to apply the presumption of legislative good faith, we reverse,” wrote Richardson.

The appeals court also highlighted the fact that a majority of North Carolina voters had approved the voter ID requirements as a constitutional amendment. In November 2018, about 55 percent of the state’s voters voted “Yes” on a ballot measure to enshrine voter ID in the state constitution.

“Fifty-five percent of North Carolinian voters constitutionally required the enactment of a voter ID law and designated to the General Assembly the task of enacting the law,” Richardson wrote. “The people of North Carolina had interjected their voice compared into the process, mandating that the General Assembly pass a voter ID law.”

State House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, a primary sponsor of North Carolina’s voter ID law in 2018, applauded the decision, saying that the voter ID requirements must be implemented for the next election cycle in the state.

“If the 2020 elections have taught us anything it is the fact that voting in person with a photo ID is the best way to ensure the integrity of our elections,” Moore said in a statement.