Two Rutgers Law School Alumni Helped Lead The fight Against a 2013 North Carolina Election Law

Photo: Donita Judge (left) and Irving Joyner courtesy of Advancement Project and North Carolina Central University School of Law, respectively.

Two Rutgers Law School (RLS) alumni helped lead the fight against a 2013 North Carolina election law, which enacted restrictions that they said disenfranchised voters of color.

The work of Donita Judge (University College-Newark ’00, RLS ’03), a senior attorney with the Washington D.C.-based Advancement Project, and Professor Irving Joyner (RLS ’77) of North Carolina Central University School of Law, paid off when on Friday, July 29, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, overturned a lower court ruling and stopped the law’s restrictions from going into effect.

The North Carolina law, which was enacted in 2013 immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a critical section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, would have required voters to show ID at the polls and changed rules involving same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration.

“North Carolina voters have been held hostage since the enactment of this discriminatory ‘monster’ voter suppression law almost three years ago to the day,” said Judge the day the law was overturned. “The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has vindicated our claims that HB 589 was passed with discriminatory intent by the North Carolina legislature. Today, North Carolina voters can breathe a sigh of relief when they go to the polls in November that the barriers to the ballot imposed by the North Carolina legislature will not frustrate their most fundamental right–the right to vote.”

Judge was co-counsel in the case, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory, filed in 2013 on behalf of North Carolina voters against North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Judge spoke at Rutgers Law School in Newark in October 2015 about the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and talked about how the North Carolina law made it difficult for residents living in rural areas to get to polling places, made it onerous for people working long hours to get to voter registration locations, and disproportionately targeted the rights of minority voters.

“The effect you’re going to see is increased turnout among African Americans, Latinos, and people with low incomes,” said Jason Roberts, a University of North Carolina political science professor, whose interview was published in an article about the decision on “Those are the people who typically vote for Democrats.”

Advocates of the North Carolina elections law argued that IDs were needed to prevent voter fraud, but the court found that its provisions “constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.” The three-judge panel thus found that the law was adopted with ”discriminatory intent” and indeed “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The Fourth Circuit ruling is the third voting rights decision to be issued in the last two weeks. Federal judges found that other identification requirements in both Wisconsin and Texas were too restrictive and violated the Voting Rights Act.

“This ruling is a stinging rebuke of the state’s attempt to undermine African-American voter participation, which had surged over the last decade,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, whose office issued a statement on Friday. “It is a major victory for North Carolina voters and for voting rights.”

Besides speaking at Rutgers Law School, Judge recently accompanied law students on an educational trip to Cuba this spring. She earned her bachelor degree from Rutgers University-Newark and was elected Phi Beta Kappa. While at Rutgers Law School, she was selected a Rutgers Kinoy/Stavis Fellow and a NAACP LDF Earl Warren Legal Scholar. She was a student advocate in the Constitutional Rights Clinic under Distinguished Professor Emeritus Frank Askin (RLS ’66), and served as a law clerk for the Honorable Michelle Hollar-Gregory (RLS ’81) in the Superior Court of New Jersey.

Joyner, who is a former associate dean at NCCU School of Law and author of books on criminal procedure, provides pro-bono legal counsel to several political, religious, and community organizations and is a regular commentator for local, state, and national media in the areas of civil rights and racial justice. Besides working on the voting rights case, he also is involved in a separate challenge to redistricting plans for state and congressional legislative districts in North Carolina.