North Carolina’s Voter ID Law: A Burden on the Right to Vote
Amidst an already controversial and historic election cycle, federal courts have stepped in to strike down or modify states’ voter identification (ID) laws. On July 29, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit unanimously overturned a decision by the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina and struck down provisions of North Carolina’s voter ID law. N.C. State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory, No. 16-1468, No. 16-1469, No. 16-1474, No. 16-1529, 2016 WL 4053033 (4th Cir. July 29, 2016). In its opinion, the Fourth Circuit recognized the “disproportionate [negative] impact” that North Carolina’s voter ID law, SL 2013-381, had on African Americans attempting to vote in the state. See id. at *15. Considering the history of voting discrimination in North Carolina and the inexorable link between race and party lines, the Fourth Circuit struck down certain provisions of SL 2013-381, finding that they were motivated by “discriminatory racial intent” in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Id. at *17.
Designed to protect the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the Voting Rights Act prohibited every state and local government from imposing any voting law that would result in discrimination against racial or language minorities. See Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub. L. 89-110 §§ 2, 4 (1965) (codified at 52 U.S.C. §§ 10301, 10303(f)(2) (2012)). Section 5 of the Act established a preclearance requirement that prohibited certain jurisdictions, including North Carolina, from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the United States Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. See id. § 5 (codified at 52 U.S.C § 10304 (2012)). Section 5 utilized a coverage formula originally designed to encompass jurisdictions that engaged in egregious voting discrimination in 1965. See id. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula as unconstitutional in Shelby Cty. v. Holder. 133 S. Ct. 2612, 2631 (2013). Finding the formula outdated and no longer responsive to current conditions, the Court declared that it violated the principles of federalism. See id. at 2618, 2629. The Supreme Court did not strike down Section 5, but without the formula, Section 5 was unenforceable. See id. at 2631.