On Tuesday, a panel of three judges on North Carolina's Court of Appeals unanimously overturned a lower court's ruling and ordered it to grant a preliminary injunction blocking Republicans' voter ID law until the case gets decided on the merits. The appellate court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in demonstrating that Republicans had enacted the law with the unconstitutional intent to discriminate against black voters.
This ruling is the second time this year that a court has blocked this voter ID law, and a federal court had already issued its own preliminary injunction in a separate case ahead of an upcoming trial. Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein previously announced he would wait until after the March 3 primaries to appeal the federal ruling (Republicans aren't party to that case, but Stein has a general obligation to defend state laws in most instances), so the voter ID requirement was already on hold for next month's vote. However, this latest ruling could mean that it remains suspended through the November general election, too.
Tuesday's ruling comes nearly four years after the GOP's previous voter ID law was struck down for what a federal court described as an effort to target black voters "with almost surgical precision." When passing their first voter ID law, Republicans had ordered data on which types of IDs black voters were disproportionately less likely to possess, then categorically excluded those types of IDs.
Republicans responded to the 2016 ruling by placing a vaguely worded constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2018 to establish a new ID requirement. After voters approved the amendment, GOP lawmakers used their illegally gerrymandered supermajorities to pass a statute implementing it in the lame-duck session of the legislature, over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto.
However, the voter ID constitutional amendment does not require the specific form of voter ID statute that Republicans had enacted, nor does it override the state constitution's other provisions guaranteeing equal protection and the right to vote in free and fair elections. Consequently, the plaintiffs had been arguing that the GOP's statutory requirement violated the state constitution, and Tuesday's ruling strongly suggests that they will prevail on the merits. If the Republican defendants in the state case ultimately appeal to the state Supreme Court, they may have no better odds of success before the high court's 6-1 Democratic majority.
In addition, the amendment itself is facing a lawsuit of its own. In a separate case, the NAACP has argued that because the legislature was improperly constituted since its members had been elected under illegally gerrymandered maps that were later struck down by the courts, lawmakers lacked the authority to amend the constitution. A state court agreed last year and struck down the amendment, but the state Court of Appeals has stayed the ruling while GOP legislators appeal.