A federal judge is expected to rule soon whether 13 Republican legislators — including the leaders of the state House and Senate — can ignore subpoenas for documents by groups challenging North Carolina’s new voting laws. Judge Thomas Schroder heard arguments Friday in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. Attorneys representing the state had appealed a March 27 ruling from Magistrate Judge Joi Peake, arguing that the legislators — including Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House, and Phil Berger Sr., the president pro tem of the Senate — had absolute legislative immunity and that providing documents and emails generated while drafting the legislation would put a chill on debate and research necessary in making laws.
Peake ruled that the legislators don’t have absolute immunity, particularly in cases involving challenges to state laws under the U.S. Voting Rights Act. In voting rights cases, the reason for election-law changes is a key element in determining whether those changes are discriminatory, Peake said in her ruling. At least three lawsuits filed last year allege that the voting changes discriminate against black voters, particularly in requiring government-issued voter IDs and reducing the number of early voting days.
But Peake left it up to attorneys on both sides to resolve disputes on documents and emails that plaintiffs want turned over in discovery. Any remaining disagreements would be brought to Peake, according to the ruling.