Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina Vote Suppression Law

*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*

There is a tendency among Americans to believe the Founding Fathers were champions of democracy, and although they did hate a monarchy, they were not completely enamored with the idea of allowing every citizen to vote, or having a voice in choosing all of their representatives. However, they were savvy enough to comprehend that times, attitudes, and social norms would change and thus provided a Constitution that could change according to the will of the people over time; it is the only reason women, people of color, and the poor are allowed to participate in this nation’s representative democracy.

Republicans haven’t been nearly as prone to accept change over anything, but particularly the idea that it is not 1789 any longer and that all Americans have a right to vote. Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Republicans have been on a tear to reinstate vote restrictions targeting the poor, people of color, students and the elderly primarily because they tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Always willing to lend a helping hand to obstruct democracy, conservatives on the Supreme Court ruled that there is no such thing as a racial element affecting the voting rights’ laws enacted in Republican Southern states. Subsequently, the Voting Rights Act had to be neutered so Republicans could revert to near-Jim Crow voter restrictions. For the third time in a week, a Federal Court issued a ruling striking down one of the harshest voter restriction laws in the nation. Naturally, North Carolina Republicans are absolutely furious.

On Friday, the Fourth District Court of Appeals “decisively struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law,” and like last week’s two Federal Court rulings affecting Wisconsin and Texas voter restrictions, the Court said North Carolina’s “provisions deliberately target African Americans with almost surgical precision in an effort to depress Black turnout at the polls.” It was a “sweeping decision” that “upended” North Carolina’s voting practices barely three months prior to an all-important presidential election.

Sweeping is an understatement and voting rights advocates should be as ecstatic as anti-democracy Republicans are livid their voter suppression law was rejected due to racial discrimination. The Appellate Court tossed the ALEC requirements, including that voters submit a Republican-approved and “ALEC-sanctioned” photo identification in order to cast a ballot. The Court also summarily reinstated a voter’s ability to register on Election Day, to register prior to reaching the mandatory 18 year-old voting age, and to cast early ballots; all provisions ALEC-Republicans had completely or almost entirely eliminated. Just to make a point that all North Carolina voters’ ballots would be counted, the Court also restored a provision ensuring that people who were tricked by cheating Republicans into voting at the wrong polling station would still have their ballots counted as valid.

This ruling was “an abrupt reversal” of a previous District Court decision that Republicans claimed ended the legal debate, once and for all time, about the legitimacy of their ALEC-written voter suppression law. Although the Appeals Court panel acknowledged that the district court judge in Winston-Salem was “thorough,” the Circuit Court’s ruling informed the Appellate Judges opinion on  North Carolina’s racially discriminatory voting laws. Laws, by the way, that were rammed through the Republican legislature and signed in 2013 immediately after the conservative Supreme Court all but reinstated Jim Crow by dismantling the Voting Rights Act to aid racist Republicans suppress minority votes.

The decision read, in part:

We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the [voting] franchise in modern North Carolina history.

In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the [district] court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees. This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.” (author bold)

Although North Carolina’s bigoted and racist governor, Pat McCrory, didn’t offer an immediate comment, the racists leading the Republican General Assembly responded like petulant brats caught stealing and duly reprimanded. Besides saying they would appeal to reinstate their racist voter suppression laws,  Republicans cried foul and cited that nasty liberal bias against racial discrimination.

In a joint statement issued by Senator Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, the Republicans typically lashed out at the Circuit Court for attempting to help Hillary Clinton and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper “steal the election” because all North Carolina citizens are able to vote. The anti-democracy Republicans said:

Since today’s decision by three partisan Democrats ignores legal precedent, ignores the fact that other federal courts have used North Carolina’s law as a model and ignores the fact that a majority of other states have similar protections in place, we can only wonder if the intent is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper to steal the election. We will obviously be appealing this politically motivated decision to the Supreme Court.”

Now, setting aside that last week two separate Federal Courts rejected “other states similar protections,” and that the ALEC-written vote suppression law is politically motivated to allow Republicans to “steal the election,” there is the filthy dirty lie that the Appellate Justices were attempting to “open the door for voter fraud.” Seriously?

Only Republicans would openly accuse Federal Circuit Court Judges of political bias and aiding and abetting voter fraud. As an aside, a monumentally comprehensive investigation and study of 14 years’ worth of elections by Loyola University revealed there have been exactly 31 instances of “potential voter fraud” between 2000 and 2014. That is 31 “potential frauds” out of “over 1 billion ballots that  were cast in that [14-year] period” in every local community, county, regional, state and federal election nation-wide. There is no “open door” for voter fraud because there is no voter fraud. But there is an active Republican crusade to steal elections by restricting voting rights of all but Republican voters.

The response from advocates for democracy weighed in and rightly praised the ruling for regulating the Republican attempt to “undermine African-American voter participation.” Many of the voting rights advocates had harsh words for the Republicans rabid to enact voter suppression laws. For example, the president of the N.C. branch of the N.A.A.C.P., Reverend William Barber II said,

We see today as a moral and constitutional critique of this extremist legislature and our extremist governor. A political majority doesn’t give you the power to run roughshod over the Constitution.”

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union called the ruling “a stinging rebuke of the state’s attempt to undermine African-American voter participation.”

And Attorney General Loretta Lynch praised the decision and said North Carolina’s ALEC-written law:

Sent a message that contradicted some of the most basic principles of our democracy. The ability of Americans, the ability of all of us to have 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, to who we aspire be as citizens and as Americans. And going forward, the Department of Justice will continue our work to protect this sacred right.”

This third denunciation of Republican-controlled states’ voter-suppression laws within a week should send Republicans a powerful signal that this is not 1789, and the only eligible voters in America are not landowning white males. Although this latest ruling, like those in Wisconsin and Texas, is a welcomed affirmation that there are still a few Americans who believe voting is a basic right, especially going into a general election, no American should think for a second that Republicans will stop trying to “steal elections” by stealing minority Americans’ right to vote.