U.S. Said to Plan Lawsuit Over North Carolina Voting Law
By Laurie Asseo - Sep 30, 2013 12:00 AM ET
Attorney General Eric Holder will announce a lawsuit today challenging voting restrictions adopted by North Carolina after the Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the U.S.Voting Rights Act, said a person briefed on the plans.
The lawsuit, which the person said Holder will announce at a Justice Department news conference, follows a similar government action against voting laws and election districts in Texas – a move criticized by state officials.
The suit to be filed in North Carolina will challenge provisions including the state’s voter-identification requirement and limits on early voting, the person said. It also will ask the court to require pre-approval by the Justice Department or a court for voting changes in the state, said the person, who sought anonymity because the plans hadn’t been publicly announced.
The Supreme Court on June 25 threw out a major part of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that opened the polls to millions of Southern black Americans. The 5-4 ruling said Congress couldn’t use a decades-old formula for requiring all or part of 15 states with histories of discrimination, including North Carolina, to get federal approval before changing their election rules.
The ruling was a “deeply flawed decision that effectively invalidated a cornerstone of American civil rights law,” Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general, told the Congressional Black Caucus on Sept. 20. “We will not allow the court’s action to be interpreted as ‘open season’ for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.”
The day of the Supreme Court ruling, Holder said the Justice Department would use “every legal tool that remains available to us” to fight state laws it viewed as discriminatory.
The Voting Rights Act’s Section 2 allows the Justice Department to sue over voting rules or procedures that “purposefully discriminate.” Section 3 creates a procedure allowing courts to order jurisdictions to get pre-approval for voting changes.
The focus on voting laws comes as the U.S. is undergoing a demographic transformation affecting its politics, with states such as North Carolina moving from being reliably Republican to competitive on the presidential level as a result of the changing makeup of their residents.
Hispanics made up 8.4 percent of North Carolina’s population in 2010, up from 4.7 percent in 2000, the nation’s sixth-fastest gain, according to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte Urban Institute. Democratic President Barack Obama won the state in 2008; four years later he lost it to Republican Mitt Romney, 50 percent to 48 percent.
North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature on July 25 became the first to adopt more restrictive voting laws after the high court’s decision.
The Justice Department lawsuit will challenge the state’s requirement that voters present a government-issued photo identification at the polls, the person said. That rule replaced a prior system that allowed use of student ID cards issued by the state’s public universities and community colleges.
The Justice Department lawsuit also will target the elimination of the first seven of North Carolina’s 17 early-voting days, the elimination of same-day voter registration during early voting, and a ban on counting provisional ballots cast by voters in their home county though outside their home precinct, the person said.
The legislation’s chief supporter, Republican state Senator Tom Apodaca, told the News & Observer of Raleigh on July 18: “We want a state-issued ID or a federal issued ID” because college IDs “could be manipulated.”
Another Republican supporter of the bill, state Senator Bob Rucho, said in an interview when lawmakers enacted the measure that it was needed to “re-establish a level of confidence in the system.”
Civil rights leader Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, said in an Aug. 24 interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” that North Carolina’s voting law had taken an “enormous step backward.” He said there was little evidence of voter fraud, which the laws are intended to combat.
In July and August, the Justice Department went to court to challenge Texas’s voter-identification rules and voting maps. The lawsuit said black and Hispanic voters disproportionately lack the kind of identification required in the law.
Texas Governor Rick Perry called the government’s move an “effort to obstruct the will of the people” in the state.
While Congress could adopt a new formula for requiring pre-approval of voting changes, the chances of gaining agreement among deeply divided lawmakers are slim.
Democratic leaders in Congress have criticized the Supreme Court ruling, and one House Republican, Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, has said the decision “severely weakened” ballot protections. He is urging his colleagues to rewrite the provision before the 2014 elections.
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