A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that attempts by the North Carolina Republican-controlled legislature to restrict voting access in the state went too far as it overturned a lower court decision.
Though it did not cast aside the entire set of measures established by the state, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the most troublesome portions of the law violated the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and would disenfranchise large numbers of African-Americans and other voters.
The decision comes just weeks before early voting in the state is set to begin ahead of next month's elections, and though the court ruling did not object to the reduction of the early voting period, it said that the law's termination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting would put an undo burden on large portions of the voting community, specifically people of color and low-income voters.
“The right to vote is fundamental,” wrote Judge James Wynn in the majority opinion for the three-judge panel. “And a tight timeframe before an election does not diminish that right.”
"Whether the number is 30 or 30,000, surely some North Carolina minority voters will be disproportionately adversely affected in the upcoming election," Wynn continued. "Once the election occurs, there can be no do-over and no redress. The injury to these voters is real and completely irreparable if nothing is done to enjoin this law."
Civil liberty groups and voting right advocates welcomed the decision.
"We are pleased with the Circuit Court's ruling," said Rev. William J. Barber III, president of North Carolina NAACP, in a statement. "The evidence clearly showed that, under North Carolina's voter suppression law, African Americans would have faced higher barriers to the ballot this November, and the Court took an important step to ensure that this election will remain free, fair, and accessible to all North Carolina voters. Our fight is not yet over, though. We will charge ahead until this law is permanently overturned in the full trial next summer. Until then, we will continue to take our movement to the streets to make sure all people in our democracy have an equal voice in this and all elections."
Allison Riggs, staff attorney for Southern Coalition for Social Justice, added, "This is a victory for voters in the state of North Carolina. The court has rebuked attempts to undermine voter participation."
Penda D. Hair, co-director of the civil rights advocacy group Advancement Project, echoed Barber and Riggs by celebrating the decision but also emphasized that the fight to fully restore and improve voting rights and ballot access was far from over. "While this partial injunction is an important first step, today's decision is only the promising beginning of a long fight to fully restore the rights of North Carolina voters and renew the integrity of democracy in the state," she said.
Nationwide in recent years, Republican lawmakers have made a coordinated effort to institute a wave of voter restrictions at the state level. Though they share a pattern, the laws have been met with various forms of resistance and many of the challenges brought against these new laws are now weaving their way through the federal court system.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Ohio's early voting restrictions, which critics called a blow to voting rights in that state. Many legal analysts believe that as additional challenges make their way to the nation's highest court, the battle of the future of voting rights in the U.S. is coming to a head.
In response to Wednesday's ruling in North Carolina, GOP lawmakers in the state have said they will, indeed, appeal the decision.