The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory is nothing short of a beat down. The court does not simply tear apart major provisions of the law, it catches state lawmakers at the center of a conspiracy to disenfranchise black voters, and it calls them out onto the carpet for it. By the time the court is done scraping the bloody mass of what was once North Carolina’s attempts to justify this law off the floor, the state’s leadership has been thoroughly shamed.
The court’s opinion — primarily written by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, a Clinton appointee — is rooted in an important understanding of how race and partisanship interact in states like North Carolina with large minority populations. Race is a very close proxy for political views. Black voters overwhelmingly prefer Democrats, and white voters, at least in North Carolina, tend to prefer Republicans. Thus, if Republican lawmakers want to improve their chances of winning elections, they can do so by enacting voting laws that disproportionately disenfranchise African-Americans. As Motz writes, “polarization renders minority voters uniquely vulnerable to the inevitable tendency of elected officials to entrench themselves by targeting groups unlikely to vote for them.”
Such efforts to use race as a proxy for partisan preference, moreover, violate the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act even if the lawmakers who enacted the law did not have hate in their hearts. It does not matter that the lawmakers in this case appear to have targeted black voters because they are Democrats, and not because they are black. All that matters is that the voter suppression law at issue in this case was enacted with the purpose of making it harder for African-Americans to vote.
And boy was it ever.
As Judge Motz lays out the facts of this case, it’s hard not to come away with the conclusion that North Carolina’s lawmakers wanted to get caught engaging in unlawfully racial discrimination. Just one day after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, effectively eliminating federal supervision that could have halted this voter suppression law before it ever took effect, “a leader of the party that newly dominated the legislature (and the party that rarely enjoyed African American support) announced an intention to enact what he characterized as an ‘omnibus’ election law.”