Judge: Legislators must release voting law records

Posted March 27, 2014
Updated March 28, 2014

Voting in N.C., voting generic

A federal judge ordered state lawmakers Thursday to hand over some public records related to last year's voter ID law, rejecting an argument that legislative immunity protected them from release.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union and others sued the state after legislators refused to release emails and other documents related to the enactment of the controversial law tightening voting restrictions.

Proponents say the law – it requires voters to show photo identification at the polls, limits early voting times and ends same-day registration, among other provisions – is designed to protect voter integrity. The plaintiffs say those changes are designed to suppress voter turnout, especially among minorities.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake wrote in the decision that legislative immunity must be evaluated "under a flexible approach" that balances the public's right to know and the legislative process.

"The Court concludes that, while the judicially-created doctrine of 'legislative immunity' provides individual legislators with absolute immunity from liability for their legislative acts, that immunity does not preclude all discovery in the context of this case," Peake wrote.

Civil liberties groups, which are also suing Gov. Pat McCrory and the State Board of Elections over the new elections law, hailed the judge's order.

“North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a press release. “Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy. The people deserve better.”

McCrory's office did not respond a request for comment Thursday evening. But in late February, state attorney Alexander Peters argued in court that lawmakers should be immune from having to disclose those records to protect the legislative process.

"(The plaintiffs) are saying, 'Tell us why you voted how you voted,'" Peters said. "What an individual legislator thought on that is not only irrelevant, it is not evidence of what the General Assembly intended."

The judge also ruled that additional categories of documents may be released after further hearings in the coming weeks.


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Terry Watts Mar 31, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    A person's low level of interest or lack of knowledge doesn't preclude their Right to Vote. Arbitrarily deciding who can and cannot vote based on some level of "literacy" does even less to serve Democracy than basic stupidity on the part of the voters...

  • Sally Bethune Mar 31, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    What a totally ridiculous thing to say! Weather people are "taken to the polls in mass" gee wonder who you might be thinking about? You most likely are talking about a van full of soccer moms voting before "doing lunch". If you ONLY watch Fox or MSNBC you do not have a true understanding of the issues. If you are an American citizen and you get out of your lazy boy and vote you HAVE served democracy!

  • Will Perry Mar 31, 2014
    user avatar

    This law was pushed thru based on a bunch of GOP lies. There was supposed to be all these fraudulent votes and after the research was done they found basically ZERO fraud! Republicans only want to change districts in their favor and find ways to make it more difficult to vote in order to win elections. Remember that document called the constitution you love to refer to when it comes to guns? There's something about the right to vote in there too!

  • Objective Scientist Mar 31, 2014

    I am 1000% in support of the electorate knowing such information... and the 1000 instead of 100 is intentional for emphasis - not a typo. Emails exchanged in the course of the Legislature "doing the business" of the NC electorate should - unequivocally - be OPEN for all to see. However.... would business then be done by phone and/or using private email accounts? Frankly... I don't trust elected officials to always "do the right thing" or "do something in the right way". Far too many of them are "politicians" in the most negative sense of the word. And, for the record, I am a very VERY INDEPENDENT independent... have been for decades and far longer than it has become somewhat "fashionable" to be independent.

  • casadelrichman Mar 31, 2014

    Voters who are taken to the polls in mass, and cast their votes with zero understanding of the candidates or the issues, do not serve democracy.

  • casadelrichman Mar 31, 2014

    We MUST be able to trusty the integrity of the voting process. Without that democracy has failed.

  • Norman Lewis Mar 31, 2014
    user avatar

    The liberal bias of the Judicial branch of government is rearing its ugly head again. The whole voter ID issue was to ensure the integrity of the voting process not to deny the vote to anyone. Of the small percentage of people that actually do vote, not all the eligible voters, how many among them do not have some form of ID that would be sufficient for elections? This is a non-issue except for certain "leaders" and/or groups blowing smoke to inflate their self assigned importance.

  • Jack Jones Mar 28, 2014
    user avatar

    These Republican legislators must be pretty ashamed of what they did to have to protect their reasons so desperately.

  • teleman60 Mar 28, 2014

    View quoted thread

    They hope to find what the GOP election official who lost his job told Jon Stewart on the Daily Show - that if this law took voting away from lazy blacks and lazy college students - who cares?

    That'a what this is all about for those who've been sleeping since 2008.

  • teleman60 Mar 28, 2014

    View quoted thread

    You sir are a perfect example of crazy. This judge decides RIGHTLY that the GA must turn over PUBLIC DOCUMENTS that will show that the voter ID law WAS DESIGNED to suppress voting and ALL THE REPUBLICANS KNEW IT!!!@