Attorney General Eric Holder suffered a huge loss on Friday in his war on election integrity. A federal judge refused to issue a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s omnibus election reform law that includes voter ID, as well as measures such as the elimination of same-day registration.
In three cases filed by the Justice Department, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and a host of other liberal advocacy organizations that had been combined into one case, federal district court Judge Thomas Schroeder ruled that the “plaintiffs have not made a clear showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits.”
DOJ and its political allies claimed that the state’s 2013 law violates the 14th, 15th, and 26th Amendments, as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it is supposedly racially discriminatory. DOJ also asked for federal observers to be assigned to future elections in North Carolina.
The North Carolina law implemented a voter-ID requirement; reduced early voting from 17 to ten days; eliminated same-day registration; does not allow the counting of provisional ballots cast outside a voter’s regular precinct; banned the preregistration of 16- and 17-year olds; and expanded poll observers and the ability to challenge ineligible voters.
Judge Schroeder wrote a very long, 125-page opinion that quite simply shreds the arguments made by DOJ and the other plaintiffs. They made the same mistake in this case that they made in the Shelby County decision (decided last year by the U.S. Supreme Court) when they unsuccessfully cited old cases in arguing that the North Carolina legislature was acting with the intent to discriminate when it passed the election law.
As Judge Schroeder pointed out, the plaintiffs’ “historical evidence in these cases focuses largely on racial discrimination that occurred between a quarter of a century to over a century ago. However, as the Supreme Court recently stated, ‘history did not end in 1965’” when the Voting Rights Act was passed.
Significantly, Judge Schroeder cited the testimony of DOJ’s own experts against it. This included one expert who admitted that black turnout in North Carolina is on par with that of whites, and another DOJ expert who acknowledged that the black registration rate is higher than that of whites. That makes it a bit difficult to argue that state officials have been discriminating against minority voters.
In fact, Judicial Watch filed an expert report in the case through an amicus brief that showed that in the May 2014 primary election, black turnout was up an astounding 29.5 percent compared with the last midterm primary election in May 2010. White turnout was up only 13.7 percent. As Judicial Watch said, these results were “devastating to the plaintiffs’ cases because they contradict all of their experts’ basis for asserting harm.”
Most important, Judge Schroeder found that the data in fact showed that “black voters will not have unequal access to the polls” due to the new provisions of the election law being challenged. And the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that this law was “implemented with the intent to deny or abridge the right to vote of African-American North Carolinians or otherwise violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.”
Although the voter-ID requirement is not effective until 2016, the plaintiffs challenged the “soft rollout” requirement of the law. This mandates that election officials notify voters in elections held in 2014 and 2015 that they will need a photo ID in 2016. But the judge refused to issue an injunction against the “soft rollout,” too.
Trial in this case is scheduled for July 2015, so the litigation is not over. But this is a significant blow to DOJ and other opponents of commonsense election reforms.
That is particularly true when one remembers that this is DOJ’s second big loss in the Carolinas. South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson beat DOJ in 2012 when a federal court threw out a claim that South Carolina’s voter-ID law was discriminatory. That law is in place today — and there is a high probability that North Carolina’s voter-ID requirement will also be in place in 2016 for the next presidential election.
- Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in NRO's "The Corner"