Fourth Circuit Turned Voting Rights into Political Weapon

In its decision on North Carolina's voter ID law last month, the Fourth Circuit acted like a trial court in determining new findings of fact, according to election law expert Christian Adams:

Legal analysts have given the opinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturning North Carolina’s election reform law, including its voter ID requirement, mixed reviews. 

Both J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation in Washington, and Rick Hasen, chancellor’s professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, noted that it was highly unusual for the three-judge appeals panel to overturn a district court judge’s factual findings. 

While Hasen saw merit in the decision, Adams didn’t. 

“The 4th Circuit did what very few federal appeals courts do; they pretended they were a trial court,” Adams said. “One of the things they teach you in law school is trial courts deal with the facts and appeals courts deal with the law.” Hasen acknowledged that trial courts generally grant deference to the facts stated by a trial court.

Adams concluded that the Fourth Circuit found that the voter ID law and other election reforms were enacted with racially discriminatory intent because it was seeking any way to overturn the law for political reasons:

State elections officials and Republican leaders, however, have noted that in the 2014 election — the first federal election after the new voting provisions were enacted — turnout among black voters was higher than it was in 2010, the last nonpresidential election before the law passed. (The voter ID requirement was delayed until the 2016 primary and general elections.) 

Adams said the court “apparently wanted to set the law aside no matter what,” adding that the appeals court’s ruling turns voting rights into a political weapon. 

“Anything that the legislature ever passes and might affect blacks or Democrats ever so slightly more than whites or Republicans, these judges say it’s a voting rights violation,” Adams said. “That’s bad for the Voting Rights Act and for politics.”

On Monday, North Carolina filed a petition for emergency relief from the Supreme Court that would allow the voter ID law and other election reforms overturned by the Fourth Circuit to remain in effect for the November election.  We hope that the Supreme Court will stay the Fourth Circuit's decision until a less politically motivated court can evaluate the law.