Winston-Salem, N.C. — A federal trial judge has declined to side with North Carolina lawmakers who believe they are entitled to ignore subpoenas seeking documents about election changes that are being challenged in court.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder upheld Thursday the earlier decision of a magistrate judge who told legislators they didn't have broad immunity from the document demands by those suing over the 2013 elections law.
Schroeder wrote that, while state legislators have such immunity from civil lawsuits and testifying about legislative activity, he can't say that privilege from document requests is absolute.
The ruling comes as civil rights groups and voters have sued because they say several provisions of the law, including eliminating a week of early voting and same-day registration and prohibiting out-of-precinct voting, are discriminatory. They want to block the law's use in the November elections while the suit continues.
"This ruling means lawmakers will no longer be allowed to hide behind a veil of secrecy," Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. "If politicians are going to tamper with people’s fundamental right to vote, we deserve to know why."
"This decision will help the court get a fuller picture of why the voting changes at stake are so detrimental to North Carolina voters," Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement.