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Extraordinary North Carolina court review on voter ID sought

February 26, 2020 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republican legislative leaders want the state’s entire Court of Appeals to hear arguments on a ruling by three of the court’s judges that set another barrier to implement voter photo identification.

A lawyer for House and Senate GOP leaders asked this week that all 15 judges be brought together for what would be an first-of-its-kind rehearing of the case. It focuses on whether a December 2018 voter ID law can be carried out while a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality is pending.

On Feb. 18 a three-judge panel reversed a lower court decision and declared the photo ID requirement should have been stopped last summer.

The appeals judges said there appeared to be evidence of “discriminatory intent” by Republican legislators in approving the voter ID law that would harm African American voters disproportionately. The law was approved within weeks of voters agreeing to add an ID mandate to the state constitution in November 2018. A federal court struck down an earlier North Carolina voter ID law in 2016.

The three appeals judges got it wrong, lawyer Nathan Huff wrote in Tuesday’s motion, pointing to the law’s many ID exceptions and the ability to cast ballots without an ID.

The judges misapplied the standard “by placing the burden of proof on defendants to demonstrate that (the voter ID law) is not racially discriminatory,” Huff wrote. The judges also failed to give “sufficient weight” to the fact that voter ID is now required by the constitution, he added.

Voter ID already had been blocked for the March 3 primary because a federal judge hearing a similar lawsuit issued a preliminary injunction halting the requirement. That ruling is being appealed. But the additional state court injunction would likely prevent a voter ID requirement from being carried out in any 2020 election.

A rehearing by the 15 judges can be allowed when “the case involves a question of exceptional importance that must be concisely stated,” according to state appellate court rules. A majority of the 15 judges must vote for the rehearing for them to consider the matter “en banc.” The full court’s opinion would replace the decision of the three-judge panel.

Last week, Republican leaders pointed out the three Court of Appeals judges who ruled were all registered Democrats. The full Court of Appeals is composed of eight Democrats and seven Republicans. Any such ruling by the full court could still be appealed to the state Supreme Court, where six of seven justices are registered Democrats.

Such rehearings are permitted under a 2016 law, but one has never occurred despite 112 such requests, the Administrative Office of the Courts said on Wednesday. Save for five pending requests, the others were either denied or dismissed, according to AOC data.