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A pile of government pamphlets explaining North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law sits on table at a polling station in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters

North Carolina voter ID law overturned for ‘racially discriminatory intent’

A federal appeals court, comprised of three Democratic appointees, ruled Friday that recent changes to North Carolina’s voting law by the state’s Republican-controlled government violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The opinion of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals was a victory for civil rights groups who argued that the voter ID law ushered in from Republican lawmakers sought to suppress state’s black and Latino vote. North Carolina’s law had required voters to show identification at the polls, a measure that was “passed with racially discriminatory intent,” the panel’s opinion read.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” the opinion read.

Friday’s decision to strike down North Carolina’s law is part of a series of court challenges against voter ID laws seen in recent weeks in the country, following court decisions in Texas and Wisconsin. Since the last election cycle, North Carolina was one of 17 states that had enacted stricter voting laws ahead of the presidential election in November, the Washington Post reported.

North Carolina is a battleground state in this year’s general election, including a tight race for governor.

In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers restructured the state’s voting laws, after a Supreme Court ruling allowed certain Southern states to change them without first seeking federal approval. Republicans also had regained control of the state’s General Assembly. The changes eliminated same-day registration, prevented voters from casting out-of-precinct ballots, and shortened the period of early voting by one week.

The panel said in its opinion that these voting limitations “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” because black voters were less likely to have acceptable photo IDs.

When Dale Hicks, a former Marine and state resident, moved with his wife from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to Raleigh, a few days before the 2014 election, he was told he could not vote in North Carolina. Hicks told the PBS NewsHour Weekend last year that he couldn’t vote in Raleigh because his registration form still listed his previous address. Hicks also said he couldn’t vote in Jacksonville because he no longer lived there.

“I basically felt like I lost the right to vote at that point,” Hicks told NewsHour Weekend.

The federal appeals panel’s decision overturned a lower court decision that upheld North Carolina’s voter ID law. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder said in April that plaintiffs failed to prove how the law disproportionately affected minority voters.

The panel took issue with the district court’s conclusion.

“We recognize that elections have consequences, but winning an election does not empower anyone in any party to engage in purposeful racial discrimination. When a legislature dominated by one party has dismantled barriers to African-American access to the franchise, even if done to gain votes, ‘politics as usual’ does not allow a legislature dominated by the other party to re-erect those barriers,” the panel said in its opinion.

“The record evidence is clear that this is exactly what was done here,” the opinion added.

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