At a juncture in the nation’s history when a corrupt fascist in the White House is beginning his own serious attack on the right to vote and democracy, this time in oppressing the right to vote, there was a surprising but welcomed bit of good news for voters; at least voters in North Carolina. The Republican dominated state and its anti-democracy legislature had led the nation in imposing Jim Crow-type laws specifically targeting African Americans voting rights because they are less-inclined to vote for Republicans.
Civil rights groups have spent no small amount of time and money fighting to stop the blatant vote suppression tactics favored by the Koch brothers’ legislative arm ALEC; particularly in North Carolina. The various democracy-loving groups were likely worried that when the conservative Supreme Court heard this particular case, their battle would be finished and Republicans would have prevailed even after losing at the appellate court level.
There is little doubt voting rights organizations tempered their celebration after the 4th Circuit Court struck down the Republican voter suppression laws as patently unconstitutional. Republicans, especially North Carolina Republicans, have demonstrated that they will not countenance any attempts or court rulings meant to advance the cause of democracy and rule against voter suppression tactics.
In a surprising decision, the Supreme Court left in place a federal appeals court ruling that struck down key parts of North Carolina’s hateful voting laws. The Appellate Court had found the Republican voter suppression laws unconstitutional because, like Jim Crow, it specifically targeted African American voters unfairly and “imposed cures for problems that never existed.” As anyone concerned about the failing state of America’s barely breathing democracy, to state that the High Court’s ruling is a major victory for civil rights groups, people of color and the democratic process in North Carolina is a minor understatement.
The High Court decision let stand the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that North Carolina Republicans had acted “with almost surgical precision” to shut down African American voting rights in the state. In writing for the 4th Circuit striking down the law, Judge Diana Gribbon Mott said that not only did the ALEC-devised law “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” it “impose[d] cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.” Of course the North Carolina Republicans’ “true motivation” was restricting voting rights of any North Carolinian who is not a white evangelical.
North Carolina led the nation in anti-democratic voting laws after the conservatives on the Supreme Court abolished a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act In 2013, and eliminated any federal oversight over the former Confederate states with a history of naked discrimination against African American voters. And according to the reaction from North Carolina’s Republican legislature, they are not finished building on their history of vote suppression and pledged to “enact new voting restrictions” despite the Courts’ rulings or any silly Voting Rights Act.
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R) joined president pro-tempore of the Senate Phil Berger (R) and issued a joint statement saying:
“All North Carolinians can rest assured that Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the common sense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote.”
It is noteworthy that there have been absolutely zero cases of in-person voter fraud in North Carolina without the Republicans’ nasty law. It is also worth remarking that the 4th Circuit decision noted that as far as voter identification is concerned, the N.C. Republican voter identification provision “retained only those types of photo ID held by whites and deliberately excluded, disproportionately, those held by African Americans.”
The Appellate Court also said that Republicans “failed to identify even one single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.” However, it did find a fair amount of evidence of fraud in absentee voting by mail; the preferred method “used disproportionately by white voters” because the voter ID law does not apply to mail-in or absentee voting.
Although anti-democracy Republicans were disappointed at the High Court’s decision, civil and voting rights groups were understandably pleased. For example, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Daniel T. Donovan said, “This is the law of the land in the Fourth Circuit.”
The Director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s (ACLU) Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho said, “An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”
And North Carolina’s new Democratic Governor Roy Cooper issued a statement saying,
“Today’s announcement is good news for North Carolina voters. We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder.”
Although this is good news all around for the democratic process in North Carolina, and a blow to North Carolina Republican attempts to suppress African Americans’ right to vote, it is noteworthy to mention that the fight to participate in democracy is not yet over for North Carolina African Americans. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted, yesterday’s decision not to hear or rule on the case does “not necessarily” set a legal precedent and does not mean the conservative court will not endorse and legalize Jim Crow laws in the future. In fact, history and conventional wisdom informs that the conservative majority will legalize Jim Crow to aid Republican electoral chances.
However, today in North Carolina there is reason to celebrate and in these darkest of days for America’s waning democracy, even a temporary blow to fascist Republicans is one all Americans should savor. Because with Trump setting his sights with an anti-democracy zealot Khris Kobach on making it nearly impossible to cast a ballot for anyone except white Christians, there is every reason to believe that North Carolina’s hateful voter suppression law will be the model for a national law criminalizing people of color even attempting to participate in democracy.