Plaintiffs in North Carolina Voter ID Lawsuit Seek Documents On Legislative Motivations Behind Challenged Law

Voting Rights

Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019

For media inquiries:
Michelle Rash
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Durham, N.C. — Plaintiffs in Holmes v. Moore, a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s voter ID requirements (S.B. 824), filed a motion in Wake County Superior Court earlier today asking a judge to compel the General Assembly to release communications between legislators and General Assembly staff relating to the design of and motivations behind S.B. 824. The motion also requests access to any other materials outside of the public legislative record that the North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate used when drafting the statute. State legislators have previously refused to turn over these documents as part of the lawsuit’s discovery process, citing legislative privilege.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice along with pro bono counsel from law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

“Legislative privilege was not created to allow legislators to enact racially discriminatory laws free from public oversight. This legislature has already been convicted once this decade of passing a voter ID law intended to harm black voters. The information we are requesting goes to the very heart of the case, and North Carolinians deserve to know what discussions and information motivated the latest version of this attack on black political participation,” said Allison Riggs, Chief Counsel for Voting Rights at the Southern Coalition of Social Justice. “We are confident the state courts will see the need, given the extreme facts in this case, to allow us to review these documents.”

Filed in December 2018, Holmes v. Moore alleges that S.B. 824 is racially motivated and violates multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution including:

  • Purposefully discriminating against and disproportionately impacting African-American and American-Indian voters in violation of the Equal Protection Clause;
  • Unduly burdening the fundamental right to vote in violation of the Equal Protection Clause;
  • Creating separate classes of voters, treated differently with their respect to access the fundamental right to vote in violation of the Equal Protection Clause;
  • Imposing a cost on voting in violation of the Free Elections Clause;
  • Imposing a property requirement for voting in violation of the Property Qualifications Clause;
  • Impeding voters’ ability to engage in political expression and speech by casting a ballot in violation of their right of assembly and petition and freedom of speech.

In the motion filed today, attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that the requested communications are relevant in determining the context behind these legislative actions, stating: “Similarly, the requested materials considered by the General Assembly, documents or data related to the impact or effect of the voter ID requirements, and documents or data related to voter behavior and demographics may also contain impressions and/or opinions of those responsible for drafting S.B. 824, speaking to both motive and strategy.” The filing goes on to state the motive in passing S.B. 824 is especially important since 61 of the legislators who voted in favor of the bill had previously voted in favor of a similar voter ID requirement that was struck down as racially discriminatory by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

“While North Carolina law does grant some legislative privilege, it is also clear that privilege is not absolute. The types of information and materials we are requesting are discoverable when in the interest of justice, as they are in this case,” said Jeff Loperfido, Staff Attorney for Voting Rights with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We will not allow the North Carolina General Assembly to hide behind privilege while enacting laws that infringe on the constitutional rights of thousands of North Carolina residents and voters.”