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Court blocks 'discriminatory' North Carolina voter ID law

| Friday, July 29, 2016, 9:42 p.m.

RALEIGH — A federal appeals court on Friday blocked a North Carolina law that required voters to produce photo identification and follow other rules disproportionately affecting minorities, finding that the law was intended to make it harder for blacks to vote in the presidential battleground state.

The Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the measures violated the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act by targeting black voters “with almost surgical precision.” It marks another ruling in less than two weeks against voter ID laws, along with court decisions regarding Texas and Wisconsin.

Friday's opinion from a three-judge panel states that “the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history” when it rewrote voting laws in 2013.

The appeals court also dismissed arguments by Republican lawmakers that the law was aimed at preventing voter fraud.

“Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist,” the opinion states.

Opponents of the law say the ruling should increase participation by black and Hispanic voters on Election Day in the state that also has closely contested races for U.S. Senate and governor. The U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP and League of Women Voters were among those who sued over the restrictions.

“This is a strong rebuke to what the North Carolina General Assembly did in 2013. It's a powerful precedent that ... federal courts will protect voting rights of voters of color,” said Allison Riggs, who served as the League of Women Voters' lead lawyer.

The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said the ruling was “a vindication of our constitutional and moral critique and challenge to the constitutional extremism of our government.”

The decision was lauded by Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, but decried by Republicans including Gov. Pat McCrory as an effort to tilt the electoral balance in the November elections.

North Carolina legislative leaders Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, issued a statement that they would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and blasted the judges as “three partisan Democrats.”

“We can only wonder if the intent is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians ... to steal the election,” they said.

All three panel members were appointed by Democratic presidents.

However, it's unlikely that the evenly divided and short-handed Supreme Court would take the case or block Friday's ruling from governing elections this November, said election-law experts Ned Foley of Ohio State University and Richard Hasen of the University of California at Irvine.

Later in the day, a federal judge in Wisconsin upheld that state's voter ID law but threw out a number of GOP-written statutes that restricted voting.

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