A panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s “Voter ID” law on Friday and ruled that the state acted with racially discriminatory intent when it designed the identification requirement and other voting restrictions. The court did not place North Carolina back under the preclearance provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The decision overturns a lower court decision which consolidated three separate cases and rejected the plaintiffs’ constitutional and Voting Rights Act challenges to the North Carolina law.

The court found that the assembly chose to restrict “voting mechanisms and procedures that most heavily affect African Americans … to the benefit of one political party and to the disadvantage of the other.” Further, the state’s voting restrictions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” These restrictions included:

  • Excluding a number of photo identifications, including expired government-issued IDs (such as expired driver licenses for people who no longer drive)
  • Reducing the number of days early voting in person was permitted
  • Eliminating same-day registration
  • Eliminating out-of-precinct voting (Previously, voters in the wrong precinct could vote provisionally); and
  • Eliminating pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds when obtaining their driver’s licenses or attending high school registration drives (Pre-registered “voters” would not be able to vote until they were 18, but they would already have registered.)

Prior to enacting each of these restrictions, the assembly requested and received data breaking down each voting mechanism’s use by race. In each case, African-American voters were much more likely to utilize them than white voters.

The state may appeal the decision to the entire Fourth Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. No issues were remanded back to district court.

This is the third legal setback for Voter ID laws in the past two weeks, following a federal district court’s ruling against Wisconsin’s strict identification requirements and reduced early voting access and the Fifth Circuit’s ruling against the Texas law that now permits signing an affidavit in lieu of showing required photo identification. A fourth federal court ruling will permit up to 17,500 Kansans to vote after the state invalidated their registrations for failing to show proof of their U.S. citizenship when they registered to vote.