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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear – and thus let stand – a lower court ruling invalidating voter ID and other changes to North Carolina election law as racially discriminatory. The News-Observer has more:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider reinstating key provisions of North Carolina’s 2013 elections law overhaul, which includes a voter ID requirement and other restrictions on voting.
Within hours of the release of the order, N.C. Republican Party leaders were calling for a new law that would incorporate some of the same ideas in a manner that they thought could withstand judicial review.
The Supreme Court ruling gave few details about why the justices left a lower-court decision in place that struck down the restrictions, stating they “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
The Court gave no reasons for its (in)action, but in a separate statement Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that the fight between the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Governor Roy Cooper about whether or not to appeal was likely a factor:
In a ruling last summer, the panel blocked the voter ID requirement and other challenged provisions ahead of the November 2016 general election.
The state appealed to the Supreme Court. But after Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, took office in January, they sought to withdraw the state’s appeal. But the justices faced competing procedural arguments from the two Democrats and the Republican leaders of the legislature, raising a question about which branch of government actually represents the state…
Chief Justice John Roberts outlined the background of the case and noted that the court’s decision not to hear the appeal should not be seen as sending a larger message about the substance of 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 ‘[t]he denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case,’ ” the ruling states, noting the legal questions about whether the executive office or legislative branch speaks for the state in lawsuits.
Not surprisingly, opponents of the voter laws were cheered by Monday’s announcement – but supporters of ID in the legislature suggest they’ll try again:
The news from the high court was greeted with approval by those who challenged the law.
“This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race,” said Allison Riggs, senior staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who argued against the 2013 changes…
“This is a great victory for the N.C. NAACP and the people of North Carolina, vindicating the nearly four-year fight for fair access to the ballot in the state,” said Caitlin Swain, one of the attorneys who represented the challengers. “The 4th Circuit’s powerful determination that the General Assembly acted with racially discriminatory intent remains the law of the land.”
Republican Party leaders and legislators highlighted Roberts’ comment that the court was not ruling on the merits of the case as they talked about trying again to make an ID a requirement to vote.
“Republicans will continue to fight for common sense and constitutional voter ID measures, similar to what many other states already have,” state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said. “While Gov. Cooper and Attorney General Stein have stymied voter ID for now, they will ultimately lose in their efforts to block North Carolina citizens from having these protections.”
SCOTUS’ ruling puts an end to the latest episode in the battle in North Carolina over changes to election laws after that Court significantly weakened federal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. And yet, I wouldn’t be surprised – and you shouldn’t either – if the next chapter in this story unfolds very soon. Stay tuned …