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Paul, Weiss Successfully Defends Landmark North Carolina Voter ID Victory at the North Carolina Supreme Court

As reported by The Washington Post and other news outlets, Paul, Weiss, together with co-counsel Southern Coalition for Social Justice, successfully defended on appeal a trial court judgment striking down North Carolina’s 2018 voter ID law, S.B. 824. The North Carolina Supreme Court issued its decision affirming the trial court judgment on December 16, 2022.

In September 2021, following a 14-day trial, a majority of a three-judge trial court struck down S.B. 824 because it was “motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.” In reaching its conclusion, the panel considered North Carolina’s history of racially discriminatory voter ID laws, including S.B. 824’s direct predecessor, H.B. 589, which had been struck down in 2016 by the Fourth Circuit because of similar discriminatory intent. The panel also considered the legislative history of S.B. 824, which was hurriedly passed in a lame duck session with limited opportunities for discussion and debate, and over the governor’s veto. The panel concluded that this “extremely rushed” process left insufficient time to address concerns regarding the law’s impact on African American voters. The panel majority additionally held that S.B. 824 disproportionately burdened African American voters, who are more likely to lack a qualifying ID than white voters, and that the legislative defendants’ proffered nonracial motivations did not stand up to scrutiny.

The defendants appealed the judgment to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court. The plaintiffs successfully petitioned the North Carolina Supreme Court to hear the appeal prior to determination in the Court of Appeals, and the case was argued in the Supreme Court and submitted on October 3, 2022.

In a divided 4-3 opinion, the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, holding that the trial court majority correctly applied binding precedent and that its factual findings were amply supported by the evidentiary record the plaintiffs built at trial. Echoing the trial court, the Supreme Court majority held that the trial evidence showed “that S.B. 824 was enacted with the discriminatory intent to target African-American voters who were unlikely to vote for Republican candidates,” and that “S.B. 824 would not have been passed absent discriminatory intent.”

The Paul, Weiss appellate team was led by litigation partner elect Paul Brachman and included associates Amitav Chakraborty, Annelise Corriveau and Matteo Godi. The team was supervised by partners Andrew Ehrlich and Jane O’Brien.

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