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Duke prof: Voting law challenges face tough fight

Posted August 14, 2013 6:04 p.m. EDT
Updated August 14, 2013 6:22 p.m. EDT

— Opponents of North Carolina's new elections law may face an uphill battle in court. 

That's the word from Duke University professor Guy Charles, who heads the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics. He spoke with WRAL News Wednesday about the lawsuits filed this week by the ACLU and the NAACP.  

Both suits allege that state lawmakers passed the sweeping changes to the state's elections laws in full knowledge that the bill would disproportionately affect minority voters. They're asking the federal courts to find that that constitutes intentional discrimination. 

Such a finding would trigger Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, reinstating a federal pre-clearance requirement for North Carolina for any voting law changes in the near future.

"Section 3 is a pretty high hurdle," Charles said. "It's not just that you have to prove intentional discrimination, which is high enough, but you might also have to prove that this is a repeated pattern by the state, such that you can't trust them to pass voting laws without discriminating on the basis of race.

"This is not going to be an easy process, but it is one option that's available," Charles said.

He was also skeptical about the chances that a judge would agree to block the law from taking effect, as both lawsuits request.  

Charles says judges, aware of the time-sensitivity of elections, generally prefer to either expedite elections-law cases or delay the effect of any rulings until the following election cycle. 

"If the judge is fairly sure that the plaintiffs have a fairly strong case, you'll see an injunction," he said. "If the issues are fairly contentious and depend upon the development of facts, where a broader record needs to be developed, then I don't think you're going to see an injunction.

"I think that will depend upon allowing the lawsuit to play out. That way, the court can see exactly what the facts are before making a determination."