RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal appeals court blocked a North Carolina law requiring photo identification to cast in-person ballots, ruling Friday that it was enacted "with discriminatory intent."
Opponents of the law say the ruling should increase participation by minority voters on Election Day in the presidential battleground state that also has closely contested races for U.S. Senate and governor. There are an estimated 1.48 million registered black voters and 147,000 registered Latino voters in North Carolina, according to the state's board of elections.
The opinion from a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond reverses a lower-court's ruling that had upheld the law.
"In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees," the panel wrote in its opinion.
The opinion later states: "We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history."
North Carolina's voting laws were rewritten in 2013 by the conservative General Assembly to include the ID requirement and other changes. The changes were enacted after Republicans took control of state government in 2011 for the first time in a century.
The U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP, League of Women Voters and others sued the state, saying the restrictions violated the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
"This is a strong rebuke to what the North Carolina General Assembly did in 2013. It's a powerful precedent that ... federal courts will protect voting rights of voters of color," said Allison Riggs, who served as the League of Women Voters' lead lawyer on the case.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, said in an interview that the ruling was a powerful victory for civil rights and for democracy.