Judge OKs access to voting law documents

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 5, 2014

WINSTON-SALEM (AP) — North Carolina must provide groups suing to overturn last year’s voting law with documents created even after it was signed in the summer, a judge has ruled.
The federal magistrate judge’s order released Tuesday is important to civil rights groups and the U.S. government, which contend portions of the law are unconstitutional and discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act. They argue they need documents about how the law is being implemented to show it’s going to hurt voters in minority groups.
Attorneys defending the law argued that state agencies shouldn’t have to provide documents dated past Aug. 12, when Gov. Pat McCrory signed the law. They said the breadth of documents should be limited to before that date, when the General Assembly was developing the legislation.
Magistrate Judge Joi Peake didn’t rule on constitutional issues of the law but granted the motion of those who sued to receive additional documents after the law was signed.
“The court cannot conclude that all documents created after Aug. 12, 2013, are categorically irrelevant as defendants contend,” she wrote in the order dated Monday.
The lawsuits challenge several parts of the law that require photo identification to vote in person starting in 2016, reduce early voting days and eliminate same-day voter registration during early voting.
Peake hasn’t yet ruled whether General Assembly leaders can cite special legislative immunity to ignore subpoenas seeking documents. That will be handled separately, she wrote.
The magistrate judge signed off on a proposal for how attorneys in the case are to manage hundreds of thousands of documents accumulated by state agencies in response to discovery requests.
The attorneys who sued need documents for an expected court hearing this summer in which they’ll ask a judge to block the law from being used in the November elections.