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North Carolina Voting Laws Could Hinge on Evidence of Racism

Are North Carolina Lawmakers Racist?

In recent weeks, civil-rights advocates and legal experts in North Carolina have contemplated a provocative question: Are the state’s Republican lawmakers racist?

The answer could determine the future of North Carolina’s voting laws. If a court finds that the state’s lawmakers have engaged in a deliberate attempt to discriminate against minority voters, the federal government could require the state to clear all future election policies with the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court. That would renew the federal oversight that ended with the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

In June, a 5-4 United States Supreme Court majority struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision that required jurisdictions with extensive histories of discriminating against minorities — including eight states in the South and parts of other states — to get “preclearance” from the DOJ before making changes to their voting policies.

Soon after the decision came down, North Carolina and a number of other Southern states announced plans to move ahead with restrictive voter policies that could not pass muster under the original law. Critics accused the states of trying to disenfranchise black and Latino voters, and Attorney General Eric Holder promised that the DOJ’s lawyers would turn to whatever tools were still available to “stand against discrimination wherever it is found.”

One such tool could be Section 3, a relatively obscure provision of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court justices have left intact, at least for now. Under Section 3, states and local governments can still be forced to clear their election changes with the federal government — but only if a federal court can prove that those jurisdictions deliberately engaged in racial discrimination against voters.

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