North Carolina’s voter identification law, which has been described as the most sweeping attack on African American electoral rights since the Jim Crow era, is being challenged in a legal hearing that opens on Monday. Civil rights lawyers and activists are gathering in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the start of the legal challenge that is expected to last all week. They will be seeking to persuade a federal district judge to impose a preliminary injunction against key aspects of HB 589, the voting law enacted by state Republicans last August. Lawyers for the North Carolina branch of the NAACP and the civil rights group the Advancement Project will argue that the main pillars of the law should be temporarily halted ahead of a full trial next year. Otherwise, they say, tens of thousands of largely poor black voters could find themselves turned away at the polls at the midterm elections in November.
“This is the worst voter suppression law we have seen since the days of Jim Crow. It is a full-on assault on the voting rights of minorities,” said Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina state conference of the NAACP.
North Carolina was the first state to take advantage of the landmark US supreme court ruling last June that removed one of the most powerful provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v Holder, the supreme court struck down the so-called “pre-clearance requirement” that had for almost half a century acted as a stalwart against racial discrimination at the polls in largely Southern states.
The provision had required that nine entire states and parts of six others including North Carolina sought approval from the federal government, or “pre-cleared”, any changes they made to voting arrangements. The conservative majority of the supreme court argued that exceptional remedies that had been necessary in the 1960s to combat Jim Crow racism were no longer justified in the modern age.