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Sunday, July 31, 2016


“You know that we can hear you, right?” revisited

by Tom Sullivan

Court of Federal Appeals (Lewis F. Powell Courthouse), Richmond, VA.
By Acroterion (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

On Friday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously struck down North Carolina's Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), one of the most sweeping voting "reform" laws in the country, a voter ID law that was about far more than photo IDs. Perhaps the Charlotte Observer Editorial Board put it best:

We knew. Deep down, most of us knew.

We knew that North Carolina’s 2013 voter ID law, like similar laws across the country, was not truly about voter fraud, but voter suppression.

We knew Republicans were less interested in the integrity of elections than in building obstacles for their opponents’ supporters.

We knew. Some Republicans even admitted it. And last week, in North Carolina, they got called on it.
This, as I keep saying, is their M.O.: Find the line. Step over it. Dare someone to push them back.

The federal court did. Judges found that North Carolina's law targeted African Americans "with almost surgical precision." Plaintiffs included the League of Women Voters, individual plaintiffs, and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, led by Rev. William J. Barber II, whose address wowed the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Thursday night.

It was the third such defeat in the courts this month for Republican voting legislation. On July 19, U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson struck down multiple provisions of Wisconsin's voting law. In particular:
The law limiting early voting "intentionally discriminates on the basis of race," Peterson wrote. "I reach this conclusion because I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose.

"The Legislature's immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee's African-Americans."
On July 20, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Texas "voter fraud" prevention law for having a "discriminatory effect on minorities' voting rights."

Contra hands-over-hearts protestations from Republican lawmakers across the country that their only concern in passing such laws is preventing in-person "voter fraud," the courts confirmed what the Charlotte Observer Editorial Board and the rest of us already knew. These laws are about voter suppression. By design. Researchers have found reports of voter impersonation are “nearly identical with the proportion of the population reporting abduction by extraterrestrials.”

The 4th Circuit found that North Carolina's law was the product of research. The Washington Post reports:
In particular, the court found that North Carolina lawmakers requested data on racial differences in voting behaviors in the state. "This data showed that African Americans disproportionately lacked the most common kind of photo ID, those issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)," the judges wrote.
So the law eliminated forms of acceptable IDs to those most likely to be held by whites. As in Wisconsin, limiting early voting as a means of disenfranchising black voters was also a factor.
The data also showed that black voters were more likely to make use of early voting — particularly the first seven days out of North Carolina's 17-day voting period. So lawmakers eliminated these seven days of voting. "After receipt of this racial data, the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from seventeen to ten days," the court found.

Most strikingly, the judges point to a "smoking gun" in North Carolina's justification for the law, proving discriminatory intent. The state argued in court that "counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black" and "disproportionately Democratic," and said it did away with Sunday voting as a result.
Judge Diana Diana Gribbon Motz writes:
[I]n what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race -- specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise.
In finding that North Carolina's voter ID law was discriminatory by design, the 4th Circuit cited the testimony of a former county Republican official to the Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi. In a footnote, the ruling says:
7 Some of the statements by those supporting the legislation included a Republican precinct chairman who testified before the House Rules Committee that the photo ID requirement would “disenfranchise some of [Democrats’] special voting blocks [sic],” and that “that within itself is the reason for the photo voter ID, period, end of discussion.” See J.A. 1313-14; Yelton testimony, Transcript of Public Hearing of the North Carolina General Assembly, House Elections Committee (Apr. 10, 2013) at 51. Responding to the outcry over the law after its enactment, the same witness later said publicly: “If [SL 2013-381] hurts the whites so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.” See J.A. 1313-14; Joe Coscarelli, Don Yelton, GOP Precinct Chair, Delivers Most Baldly Racist Daily Show Interview of All Time, New York Magazine, Oct. 24, 2013. These statements do not prove that any member of the General Assembly necessarily acted with discriminatory intent. But the sheer outrageousness of these public statements by a party leader does provide some evidence of the racial and partisan political environment in which the General Assembly enacted the law.
Full disclosure: I know that guy.

The real purpose of these voting reforms was obvious. Republican lawmakers again stepped over the line and dared America to push them back. What is most amazing is the bald-faced, transparent mendacity with which these lawmakers across the country look constituents in the eye and swear they are passing voter suppression laws in the name of election integrity. As if they think constituents are such fools that by their publicly saying so the public will not see what they are plainly doing in full view of the public. Amazing, yes, but hardly unprecedented.

Just weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas abortion clinic law in Hellerstedt. The women on the court, in particular, were not buying the state's argument that the law was passed out of an abundance of legislative concern for women's health. In her concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed that many other medical procedures are far more risky than abortions, including childbirth, tonsillectomy, colonoscopy, and in-office dental surgery. She agreed with the brief from the American Civil Liberties Union, writing: "[I]t is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law 'would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.'"

Anyone but those fooling themselves knew that was Republican legislators' intent from the get-go. They are not even being particularly artful about it anymore. They are winking into TV cameras and speaking into live mics about it.

As Aasif Mandvi said in response to Yelton's "bunch of lazy blacks" comment, “You know that we can hear you, right?”