North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory


SUMMARY OF THE CASE

Facts

  • After years of preclearance and expansion of voting access, by 2013 African American registration and turnout rates had finally reached near-parity with white registration and turnout rates.

  • During the period in which North Carolina jurisdictions were covered by § 5, African American electoral participation dramatically improved.

  • On the day after the Supreme Court issued Shelby County v. Holder, eliminating preclearance obligations, a leader of the Republican party announced an intention to enact what he characterized as an “omnibus” election law.

  • In this one statute, the North Carolina legislature imposed a number of voting restrictions. The law required in-person voters to show certain photo IDs, beginning in 2016, which African Americans disproportionately lacked, and eliminated or reduced registration and voting access tools that African Americans disproportionately used.

  • Before enacting the law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of
    a number of voting practices.

  • The State offered no justifications for the enactment of these provisions, or to Plaintiff’s claims that intentional racial discrimination was the reason for its actions.

  • On June 18, 2015, the General Assembly ratified House Bill 836. This new law amended the photo ID requirement by permitting a voter without acceptable ID to cast a provisional ballot if he completed a declaration stating that he had a reasonable impediment to acquiring acceptable photo ID (“the reasonable impediment exception”).

Procedural History

  • The North Carolina branch of the NAACP,  the League of Women Voters, and the United States, joined by a group of young interveners,  filed individual suits challenging the provisions of HB 589.

  • They alleged that the restrictions on early voting and elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were motivated by discriminatory intent in violation of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments; that these provisions had a discriminatory result in violation of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act; and that these provisions burdened the right to vote generally, in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment. They also alleged that the photo ID requirement produced discriminatory results under § 2 and demonstrated intentional discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the Twenty-Sixth Amendments.

  • The district court consolidated the cases.

  • The Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction of several provisions of the law, and the district court denied the motion.

  • On appeal, the 4th Circuit reversed in part, and granted a preliminary injunction on the elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

  • The Supreme Court stayed the 4th circuit injunction mandate on October 8, 2014, pending its decision on certiorari. On April 6, 2015, the Supreme Court denied certiorari, reinstituting the preliminary injunction, and restoring same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting pending the outcome of trial of the case.

  • The consolidated trial was scheduled to begin on July 13, 2015. As a result of the passage of HB836 (amending the Photo ID requirement), the district  court bifurcated trial of the case.

  • In July 2015, the district court conducted a trial on the challenges to all of the provisions except the photo ID requirement.

  • The court conducted a separate trial on the photo ID requirement in February 2016.

  • On April 25, 2016, the district court entered judgment against the Plaintiffs on all of their claims as to all of the challenged provisions.

  • Plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal to the 4th Circuit.

  • The 4th Circuit stayed the district court’s mandate and extended the existing preliminary injunction pending a decision in the case. 

  • On July 29, 2015, the 4th Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court, and remanded the case for entry of an order enjoining the challenged provisions of SL 2013- 381 regarding photo ID, early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration.

  • The court  declined to impose any of the discretionary additional relief available under § 3 of the Voting Rights Act, including imposing poll observers during elections and subjecting North Carolina to ongoing preclearance requirements.

Holding

  • The Court held that the challenged provisions of SL 2013-381 [HB589] were enacted with racially discriminatory intent in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and § 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court to the contrary and remand with instructions to enjoin the challenged provisions of the law.

Rationale

  • The court found multiple errors in the analysis of the district court, and considered these factors in its ruling.

    • There is a history of discrimination in North Carolina, and it is relevant to this case.

      • The district court’s finding that that “there is little evidence of official discrimination since the 1980s,” is clearly erroneous, because the record is full of evidence of instances since the 1980s in which the North Carolina legislature has attempted to suppress and dilute the voting rights of African Americans.

      • The record reveals that, within the time period that the district court found free of “official discrimination” (1980 to 2013), the Department of Justice issued over fifty objection letters to proposed election law changes in North Carolina -- including several since 2000 -- because the State had failed to prove the proposed changes would have no discriminatory purpose or effect. During the same period, private plaintiffs brought fifty-five successful cases under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

    • There is a strong link between Party and Race in North Carolina.

      • The district court failed to recognize a critical piece of historical evidence, that race and party are inexorably linked in North Carolina.

      • Furthermore, the state’s evidence showed that “in North Carolina, African-American race is a better predictor for voting Democratic than party registration.”

    • The timing of the HB 589 was unnecessarily rushed.

      • The record shows that, immediately after Shelby County, the General Assembly vastly expanded an earlier photo ID bill and rushed through the legislative process the most restrictive voting legislation seen in North Carolina since enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

      • The district court erred in refusing to draw the obvious inference that this sequence of events signals discriminatory intent.

    • African Americans Disproportionately used the voting provisions that the North Carolina legislature attempted to take away with HB589.

      • The district court expressly found that “African Americans disproportionately used” the removed voting mechanisms and disproportionately lacked DMV issued photo ID. Nevertheless, the court concluded that this “disproportionate[] use[]” did not “significantly favor a finding of discriminatory purpose.”

      • In doing so, the court clearly erred. Moreover, the district court also clearly erred in finding that the cumulative impact of the challenged provisions of SL 2013-381 does not bear more heavily on African Americans.

    • The 5 challenged provisions impacted African American voters when considered as a whole.

      • The district court also erred in suggesting that Plaintiffs had to prove that the challenged provisions prevented African Americans from voting at the same levels they had in the past.

      • Furthermore, the district court failed to acknowledge that a 1.8% increase in voting actually represents a significant decrease in the rate of change. For example, in the prior four year period, African American midterm voting had increased by 12.2%.

      • In sum, while the district court recognized the undisputed facts as to the impact of the challenged provisions of SL 2013-381, it simply refused to acknowledge their import. The court concluded its analysis by remarking that these provisions simply eliminated a system “preferred” by African Americans as “more convenient.” The district court erred in its analysis.

      • In large part, this error resulted from the court’s consideration of each piece of evidence in a vacuum, rather than engaging in the totality of the circumstances analysis required by Arlington Heights. Any individual piece of evidence can seem innocuous when viewed alone, but gains an entirely different meaning when considered in context.

    • The rise of the African American voting strength was the cause of the enactment of HB 589.

      • The photo ID requirement here is both too restrictive and not restrictive enough to effectively prevent voter fraud; “[i]t is at once too narrow and too broad.”The State’s proffered justifications regarding restrictions on early voting similarly fail.

      • The record thus makes obvious that the “problem” the majority in the General Assembly sought to remedy was emerging support for the minority party. Identifying and restricting the ways African Americans vote was an easy and effective way to do so. We therefore must conclude that race constituted a but-for cause of SL 2013-381, in violation of the Constitutional and statutory prohibitions on intentional discrimination.

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