A landmark voting rights trial that opens in North Carolina on Monday will determine the way the 2016 presidential election is conducted in the state and could have long-lasting implications for the politics of the American south. The federal district court in Winston-Salem is expected to take at least two weeks to consider a legal challenge to the state’s recent changes to its voting laws, which are widely regarded to be among the most restrictive in the country. Republican governor Patrick McCrory, in his official capacity, and the state itself will be on trial, accused of intentionally discriminating against black voters in an attempt to drive down turnout within this traditionally Democratic-voting community.
The stakes are high in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v Patrick McCrory. Tens of thousands of voters could be impacted by its outcome in a state that backed Barack Obama in 2008 but opted for his opponent Mitt Romney four years later, both on the slightest of margins.
The legacy of half a century of the voting rights struggle also hangs in the balance. Paradoxically, the trial begins just three weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of the signing into law on 6 August 1965 of the Voting Rights Act, following the historic Selma to Montgomery march led by Martin Luther King. Plaintiffs in the case see the lawsuit as a key test of whether President Lyndon Johnson’s groundbreaking legislation will continue to offer protection to black voters against discrimination, particularly in the deep south.