Judicial Appointees of Obama and Clinton to Weigh in on Restrictive North Carolina Voting Law

Wednesday, October 01, 2014
Rally in Youngstown, Ohio (photo: Matt Rourke, AP)

North Carolina’s tough new voting law may have survived its first legal test before a Republican judge, but now it faces a panel of Democratic ones on appeal.


The so-called “monster voting bill,” as dubbed by critics, was upheld in August by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who was nominated to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.


Schroeder disagreed with the law’s challengers, including the N.C. State Conference of the NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice, which argued House Bill 589 (pdf) violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (pdf), as well as the 14th, 15th and 26th amendments to the Constitution.


That ruling, however, is now under review by a three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Opponents of the law are heartened that the panel features two judges appointed by President Barack Obama (James Wynn and Henry Floyd) and one by President Bill Clinton (Diana Gribbon Motz).


The law bans same-day voter registration, cuts early voting days from 17 to 10, eliminates the use of provisional ballots if the voter votes in the wrong precinct, eliminates a program to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register at public high schools, says that a disabled voter can be helped only by a near relative or legal guardian and mandates that candidates belonging to the same party as the governor have their names appear first on the ballot.


The North Carolina bill is part of a pattern by Republican-led governors and state legislatures to change the voting rules in a way that results in making it more difficult for poor and minority citizens to vote. Some of the changes are made in the name of voter fraud prevention, but no one can point to any significant instances of such misconduct.


ThinkProgress reported that during oral arguments, Wynn expressed skepticism about the provision that allows the state to throw out ballots cast by voters in the wrong precinct. “At one point, his questions grew quite pointed — ‘Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?’ Wynn asked,” according to Ian Millhiser. “At another point, he described a hypothetical grandmother who has always voted at the same place. Why not ‘let her just vote in that precinct?’ he wondered?”


However, if the Fourth Circuit strikes down the bill, North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who signed the restrictions into law, would appear to have friends in higher places. The Supreme Court’s five conservative justices on Monday overturned a decision that would have stopped Ohio from cutting some of its early voting hours, which are favored by working-class voters and those who organize “souls to the polls” campaigns in conjunction with churches with predominately minority congregations.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Judge Slams Voter Suppression Law — ‘Why Does The State Of North Carolina Not Want People To Vote?’ (by Ian Millhiser, ThinkProgress)

North Carolina Governor Signs America’s Worst Voter Suppression Bill into Law (by Ian Millhiser, ThinkProgress)

North Carolina Governor Signs Extensive Voter ID Law (by Aaron Blake, Washington Post)

Federal Judge Supports North Carolina Voter Restrictions (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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