Originally Published May 22, 2014

By Zenitha Prince

Fifth in a series detailing states’ efforts to keep citizens from voting.

As hundreds of Moral Monday protesters swarmed the North Carolina capitol building decrying the Legislature’s enactment of a wave of conservative laws May 19, civil rights lawyers were filing a motion in federal court to block the state’s omnibus voter suppression law from disenfranchising voters during the November general elections.

“While the voters of North Carolina were attempting to have their voices heard in the statehouse, the lawyers were bringing this important motion to the courthouse,” said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with the Advancement Project and part of the legal team that filed the complaint.

“This demonstrates the power and breadth of the movement and how the legal effort is just one aspect of the important broader movement building in North Carolina,” she said.

The North Carolina NAACP—which leads the Moral Monday movement—and its legal team filed the motion and a 95-page brief jointly with the League of Women Voters as plaintiffs and with interveners representing youth voters in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The request for a preliminary injunction against HB 589 was filed on the grounds that the new voter restrictions violate the 14th, 15th and 26th amendments of the U.S. Constitution as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Each Monday, civil rights activists stage non-violent rallies against North Carolina Legtislature actions and then enter the state capitol in peaceful protest and are arrested for civil disobedience.

“Without same-day registration, without the full schedule of early voting, without voter protection from vigilante poll watchers, without the ability to cast provisional ballots if you mistakenly go to the wrong precinct, people in North Carolina will be disenfranchised during November’s critical elections,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP and architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement, in a statement. “Disproportionately, those disenfranchised will be people of color, seniors, women, youth, the disabled and other minorities.”

In the brief, the legal team, which comprises North Carolina Central University law professor Irv Joyner, attorney Adam Stein and lawyers from Kirkland Ellis, LLP and Advancement Project, argue: “Defendants do not (because they cannot) dispute that HB 589 imposes disproportionate burdens on African Americans. Indeed, at the time it enacted HB 589, the General Assembly had before it (or previously had been told) that African Americans used early voting, SDR, and out-of-precinct voting at far higher rates than whites. The evidence shows, moreover, that the elimination of these practices will interact with existing socioeconomic conditions to impose material burdens on African Americans’ ability to vote. North Carolina has an unfortunate and judicially recognized history of racial discrimination, and the effects of that discrimination persist to this day.”

HB 589 began solely as a restrictive photo ID requirement for voters. After languishing for months, it gained new impetus after the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder, disarmed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Relieved of the obligation to seek federal preclearance for new voting changes, the North Carolina Legislature quickly revived H.B. 589 and used it as a vehicle to push forward a dizzying array of new impediments to voting and to roll back voter protections, bloating the bill to nearly 50 pages, Lieberman said.

Despite the challenges of the post-Shelby legal landscape, Lieberman said she believes their request for a preliminary injunction and the underlying challenge to HB 589 will be successful.

“We believe that our brief compellingly demonstrates that voters will be irreparably harmed if the provisions of HB 589 are allowed to go into effect for the upcoming elections,” she told the AFRO, “and that we have established a high likelihood of success on the merits, warranting a grant of a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the law while the case makes its way through the courts.”

The N.C. NAACP legal team expects to argue its case for a preliminary injunction in federal court this summer. A date for the hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Added Barber: “We did not stand idly by last summer when extremists passed the worst voter suppression law seen in the South since Jim Crow, and we will continue to take our fight for the simple, unfettered right to vote into the courts and into the streets this summer.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO