Recent court rulings in five separate states have overturned portions of voting laws the courts determined specifically restricted voting rights among minorities.
Two unrelated federal court rulings on Friday explicitly stated that voter ID laws in North Carolina and Wisconsin were created to disenfranchise Black voters. On Monday, a federal judge in North Dakota blocked a state voter ID law that he said unfairly burdens Native Americans.
A federal appeals court in Texas two weeks ago found that the state’s voter ID law was discriminatory and violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by making it harder for Blacks and Latinos to vote.
Meanwhile, a state district court in Kansas on Friday said the state must count thousands of votes from people who did not provide proof of citizenship when they registered. A judge agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the proof-of-citizenship requirements suppress voter turnout among minority voters far more than they combat fraud.
Voter ID and other restrictive voting laws disproportionately affect minorities and have been pushed by Republican state legislatures, critics say, for the sole purpose of keeping minorities and other traditionally Democratic voters away from the polls.
In North Carolina, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, writing on behalf of the three-judge panel, said the state’s voter ID law was “the most restrictive voting legislation seen in North Carolina since enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965” and targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
The court said the state enacted provisions after the legislature analyzed specific data on the types of IDs used by race, as well as other voting practices.
“The legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African-Americans [and] retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess,” the court said.
“Winning an election does not empower anyone in any party to engage in purposeful racial discrimination,” the court continued. “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 court went on to say that, “In essence the State took away [minority voters’] opportunity because [they] were about to exercise it. This bears the mark of intentional discrimination. Faced with this record, we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”
That same day, a separate federal judge struck down a portion of a Wisconsin law that he said specifically suppressed the Black vote.
“The legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective,” Judge James Peterson said in his ruling Friday. “But the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.”
In North Dakota, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said a state law there disproportionately affected Native Americans. On Monday he issued a temporary restraining order and criticized the state for its repeal of provisions that let people without valid IDs vote if someone vouched for them or if they signed an affidavit swearing they were a qualified voter.
“The public interest in protecting the most cherished right to vote for thousands of Native Americans who currently lack a qualifying ID and cannot obtain one, outweighs the purported interest and arguments of the State,” Hovland wrote in his ruling.
“This was blatantly discriminatory,” said Tom Dickson, an attorney for the north-central North Dakota tribal members, to The Associated Press. “The point of these laws is to keep people from voting and suppressing the Native American vote, who generally vote Democratic in North Dakota.” He said some tribal members cannot afford the required identification, and others had to pay to get their tribal IDs updated with a valid address.
In response to the North Carolina ruling, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the law “sent a message that contradicted some of the most basic principles of our democracy. The ability of Americans to have a voice in the direction of their country to have a fair and free opportunity to help write the story of this nation is fundamental to who we are and who we aspire to be.”