A federal judge is set to temporarily block a photo identification requirement in North Carolina that was scheduled to start in 2020.
The North Carolina law would have required people to show a photo ID before voting at the ballot box. It also would allow people lacking photo ID to get a free ID card or to fill out a form while voting to explain their “reasonable impediment” to obtaining one.
But U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs announced in short written notice on Thursday that she is set to issue a preliminary injunction against the law next week, just months ahead of the North Carolina’s March 3 primary.
The announcement comes just as the state’s board of elections was planning a Dec. 31 statewide mailing to let North Carolina voters know details about the photo ID requirements for the upcoming election, The News & Observer reported. According to the paper, Biggs said that she wanted to give advance notice of her decision to let state elections officials know they wouldn’t need to issue the statewide mailing.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon told CNN that printing has now stopped for several million of those mailers.
Biggs was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2014. Her short announcement came appended to the case [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] NAACP et al v. Cooper, filed in North Carolina’s Middle District. It is one of at least two ongoing lawsuits challenging voter ID in North Carolina.
Unless the upcoming preliminary injunction is successfully appealed, the photo ID requirement will be blocked until a lawsuit filed by the state NAACP and others is resolved.
State NAACP President the Rev. Anthony Spearman responded positively to Biggs’ latest announcement.
“This is a long-fought-for victory against voter suppression and for equal access to the ballot in this state,” he said during a press conference on Friday.
State House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) criticized Biggs’ move. In a statement on Friday, he called the announcement a “last-minute attempt by an activist federal judge to overturn the will of North Carolina voters.” He said the ruling should be ”immediately appealed” by the State Board of Elections, which is a defendant in the case.
The board is composed of three Democrats and two Republicans, all appointed by Governor Roy Cooper (D). Although a voter ID opponent, Cooper is also named a lawsuit defendant because of his position as governor.
“To issue an injunction against one of the nation’s most lenient voter ID laws—which 34 states already have—without providing an opinion is an outrageous affront to due process, the rights of North Carolina voters, and the rule of law,” Moore said.
The reason for Biggs’s issuing of the injunction won’t be known until her ruling is released.
Lt. Governor of North Carolina Dan Forest criticized Biggs’s announcement, calling it “another incredibly baseless decision coming down from an unelected activist liberal judge, beholden to only themself, who has delivered a late Christmas present to those who do not believe in the rule of law or NC’s Constitution.”
“I’m calling on Gov. Cooper’s Election Board and Attorney General Stein to uphold the Constitution they swore to protect by appealing this ridiculous ruling,” he added.
Jeff Hauser, a spokesman for the North Carolina’s Republican Party, also disapproved of the move.
“Unfortunately, this injunction is yet another example of judges legislating from the bench,” he said in a statement.
“This action, if it is allowed to stand, will invalidate the votes of millions of North Carolinians who voted overwhelmingly to implement voter ID and strengthen the integrity of N.C. elections,” he added. “The NCGOP calls on the Attorney General to appeal this decision and defend the voters of North Carolina.”
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Stein said that his office will wait for Biggs’s ruling next week before deciding how the state will react.
Voter Photo ID in North Carolina
Republican lawmakers have been trying for most of the decade to advance voter ID, saying that more than 30 states require it and it builds confidence in elections. The state’s voting pool, which currently is comprised of 6.8 million registered voters, is critical in a closely divided presidential battleground state where statewide races are often competitive between the major parties.
Voter ID was actually carried out in North Carolina’s 2016 primary elections as the result of a 2013 law (HB 589), passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by the then-Governor Pat McCrory (R).
But a federal appeals court later struck down several portions of the law in July 2016, including the photo ID requirement. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory said (pdf) that photo ID and other voting restrictions were approved with intentional racial discrimination in mind.
Republicans later put a question on the state’s November 2018 ballot enshrining voter ID in the state constitution. The amendment passed with 55 percent of the vote. The legislature approved a separate law in December 2018 detailing how to implement that amendment.
Lawsuits challenging that new law were later filed. Lawyers for the state and local NAACP chapters told Biggs in a court brief cited by The Associated Press that the latest version of voter ID is a “barely disguised duplicate” of the 2013 voter ID law and “carries the same discriminatory intent as its predecessor,” likely violating the U.S. Constitution.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.