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January 14, 2015
  Duke v. North Carolina - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Fourth Circuit Issues Ruling on North Carolina's Controversial Voting Reforms

Area of Law: Voting Rights

Issue Presented: Whether the district court abused its discretion by denying a preliminary injunction with respect to seven provisions of North Carolina's voting reform bill.

Brief Summary: After the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, North Carolina passed a bill to reform the state's voting procedures. Several lawsuits were filed seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from implementing these provisions before the upcoming 2014 election. The lawsuits were eventually joined into a single action. The district court denied the request for an injunction as to all seven provisions. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held the district court was correct on five of the seven provisions but "got the law plainly wrong" with respect to the same day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting provisions. The Fourth Circuit, with Judge Motz in dissent, remanded with instructions to grant a preliminary injunction for those two provisions.

Full Summary: After the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 589, which was signed into law. House Bill 589 is an electoral reform bill which contains seven key provisions. It provides for a soft roll out of stricter voter identification laws, eliminates same day voter registration, prohibits out-of-precinct vote counting, reduces early voting days, expands the number of allowable observers and voter challenges, eliminates a precinct's discretion to keep polls open an hour longer, and eliminates the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds. After the bill was passed, three lawsuits were filed, alleging violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuits asked for a preliminary injunction to stop the provisions from being used prior to the 2014 elections. The district court denied the injunctions, and the plaintiffs appealed.

In order for a preliminary injunction to be granted, the plaintiffs must show they are likely to succeed at trial; will suffer irreparable harm; the balance of hardships favor the plaintiffs; and the injunction is in the public interest. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found the plaintiffs failed to meet their burden on five claims. As to the question of early voting, the court found it would create a greater hardship on the state that outweighed the plaintiffs' hardship. The court also found the plaintiffs could not show irreparable harm on the issues of the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and extended hours at the polls. The court found the district court did not clearly err in its determination that extra observers and voter challenges might abuse their statutory powers. While the Fourth Circuit was skeptical that stricter voter identification requirements wouldn't cause voters to be rejected at the polls, it did not find clear error in the district court's determination that the harm alleged was merely speculative.

Nonetheless, the Fourth Circuit found the district court misunderstood and misapplied the law with regard to the same date voter registration provision and the out-of-precinct vote counting provision. The court joined the Sixth Circuit in enunciating a two-element test for a violation of Section 2. Concluding that under the proper test the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits, the Fourth Circuit then applied the final three factors of a preliminary injunction analysis. The court found that any minority voter being denied the right to vote based on these practices was enough to constitute irreparable harm. The court also found the public interest is best served by allowing the most eligible voters to vote. The court reversed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction, and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to issue a preliminary injunction for these two provisions.

Judge Motz authored a dissent in which she argued the district court's ultimate decision to deny the preliminary injunction was not given enough deference by the majority, and the majority failed to give sufficient deference to the district court's factual finding that the evidence presented was insufficient to establish a likelihood of success on the merits. Judge Motz also echoed the Supreme Court's guidance with regard to preliminary injunctions in election cases; as the election draws nearer, courts must use greater caution in granting preliminary injunctions to reduce the risk of voter confusion. Judge Motz emphasized the burden on North Carolina in resurrecting its prior electoral practices, believing the majority underestimated the costs in evaluating the balance of hardships.

To read the full text of the opinion, please click here.


Panel: Circuit Judges Motz, Wynn, and Floyd

Argument Date: 9/25/14

Date of Issued Opinion: 10/1/14

Docket Number: 14-1845, 14-1856, 14-1859

Decided: Affirmed in part, reversed in part, remanded with instructions to enter a preliminary injunction

Case Alert Author: Steven Roy, Univ. of Maryland Carey Sch. of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: Allison Jean Riggs, SOUTHERN COALITION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, Durham, North Carolina; Penda Denise Hair, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT, Washington, D.C.; Marc Erik Elias, PERKINS COIE LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. Alexander McClure Peters, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina; Thomas A. Farr, OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART, P.C., Raleigh, North Caroli-na, for Appellees. Holly Aiyisha Thomas, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Amicus United States of America. ON BRIEF: Anita S. Earls, George E. Eppsteiner, SOUTHERN COALITION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, Durham, North Carolina; Dale Ho, Julie A. Ebenstein, Sean Young, New York, New York, Laughlin McDonald, ACLU VOTING RIGHTS PROJECT, Atlanta, Georgia; Christopher Brook, ACLU OF NORTH CAROLINA LEGAL FOUNDATION, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant League of Women Voters of North Carolina. Elisabeth C. Frost, Washington, D.C., Joshua L. Kaul, PERKINS COIE LLP, Madison, Wisconsin; Edwin M. Speas, Jr., John W. O'Hale, Caroline P. Mackie, POYNER SPRUILL LLP, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant Louis M. Duke. Edward A. Hailes, Jr., Denise D. Lieberman, Donita Judge, Caitlin Swain, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT, Washington, D.C.; Irving Joyner, Cary, North Carolina; Adam Stein, TIN FULTON WALKER & OWEN, PLLC, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Daniel T. Donovan, Susan M. Davies, Bridget K. O'Connor, K. Winn Allen, Kim Knudson, Jodi Wu, KIRKLAND & ELLIS LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP. Robert C. Stephens, OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR OF NORTH CAROLINA, Raleigh, North Carolina; Karl S. Bowers, Jr., BOWERS LAW OFFICE LLC, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee Governor Patrick L. McCrory. Katherine A. Murphy, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina; Phillip J. Strach, Michael D. McKnight, OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART, P.C., Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees State of North Carolina and North Carolina State Board of Election. Molly J. Moran, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Diana K. Flynn, Civil Rights Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C.; Ripley Rand, United States Attorney, Greensboro, North Carolina, Gill P. Beck, Special Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Asheville, North Carolina, for Amicus United States of America. Samuel Brooke, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, Montgomery, Alabama; Michael C. Li, Jennifer L. Clark, Tomas Lopez, THE BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE AT N.Y.U. SCHOOL OF LAW, New York, New York, for Amicus The Brennan Center for Justice at N.Y.U School of Law. Chris Fedeli, JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Washington, D.C.; H. Christopher Coates, LAW OFFICE OF H. CHRISTOPHER COATES, Charleston, South Carolina; Bradley J. Schlozman, HINKLE LAW FIRM LLC, Wichita, Kansas; Gene B. Johnson, JOHNSON LAW FIRM, P.A., Arden, North Carolina, for Amici Judicial Watch, Incorporated, Allied Educational Foundation, and Christina Kelley Gallegos-Merrill.

Author of Opinion: Judge Wynn; Judge Motz in dissent

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 01/14/2015 10:34 AM     4th Circuit  

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