In a victory for voting rights advocates, the Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from North Carolina’s Republican leaders and let stand a decision that struck down their 2013 law that added new restrictions on voting.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had branded the law as racially biased and said North Carolina lawmakers had targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.”
North Carolina lawmakers took action immediately after the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote had voided part of the historic Voting Rights Act that required some states, including North Carolina, to get federal approval before altering their voting laws.
The new North Carolina measure made five changes, including restricting early voting, which had been used more often by African American voters, and by requiring registered voters to show one of several photo ID cards at the polls. The appeals court noted the state had chosen the types of photo IDs that were less likely to be held by African Americans.
Then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, slammed the decision and lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court. Last year, four of the high court’s conservative justices had signaled they were prepared to block the lower court ruling and revive the law. They then lacked a fifth vote due to the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
But the situation changed in November when the state’s voters ousted McCrory and narrowly elected Democrat Roy Cooper. And he and the state’s attorney general, also a Democrat, recently told the high court they did not wish to appeal the lower court’s ruling.
At the same time, the GOP-controlled legislature said it did wish to have the appeal heard.
With the recent addition of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, conservatives presumably would have had the votes this time to reinstate the North Carolina law.
But after considering the issue for several weeks, the Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear the case.
“Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this court under North Carolina law, it is important to recall our frequent admonition that the ‘denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case,’” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said.
The court’s action sets no legal precedent, but it likely ends the litigation over the North Carolina law.
Voting rights advocates hailed the demise of the North Carolina law.
“An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to allow the 4th Circuit’s ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy and elections,” said Allison Riggs, senior staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race.”
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