A federal appeals court decision striking down parts of North Carolina’s election law – including a photo ID requirement – is only one of several recent judicial rulings that have breathed new life into the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution’s protections against abridgment of the right to vote.

But the decision is also notable for its recognition of an important truth: that a law that makes it harder for minorities to vote can constitute intentional racial discrimination even if might be primarily motivated by a desire to achieve partisan advantage.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down several provisions of the North Carolina law enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature, including a photo ID requirement, a cutback in early voting options and the abolition of same-day registration. The court found not only that those changes disproportionately made it harder for African-Americans to exercise the franchise but also that the law was enacted with “discriminatory intent” – a more serious indictment.

To a layperson, “discriminatory intent” might suggest that the legislators who enacted the bill had to be driven by conscious racial prejudice.

But it may be that in North Carolina, as in other states that have approved restrictions, the “problem” wasn’t the voters’ race as such but the fact that minorities tend to vote Democratic.

As the court concluded: “Using race as a proxy for party may be an effective way to win an election. But intentionally targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose.”