(Tribune Washington Bureau/Liberty Headlines) In a victory for opponents of strong election integrity laws, 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 required voters to demonstrate they are who they say they are, like they are required to do in banks and airports.
The 4th Circuit Court, which swung from ideologically conservative-leaning to solidly liberal during the Obama administration, had branded the law as racially biased and said North Carolina lawmakers had targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.” Supporters of the law bemoaned the weakening of the state’s election reliability.
“North Carolina voters are the real losers in today’s Supreme Court decision to not take up the voter ID case,” said J. Christian Adams, President and General Counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
North Carolina lawmakers took action in 2013 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 North Carolina measure made five changes, including limiting early voting days but increasing total early voting hours, 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. Despite the law’s provision for many identification options, the liberal appeals court alleged the state had chosen the types of photo IDs that were less likely to be held by African-Americans.
The court also criticized the elimination of provisional ballots cast in voters’ wrong precincts and the registration of 16- and 17-year-olds who were not yet eligible to vote (Democrats had imposed extreme liberalization of the state’s election laws when they controlled both the NC General Assembly and the governorship throughout the 1990s and 2000s).
In 2016 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 Josh Stein, 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.
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.
“It is unconscionable that Roy Cooper and Josh Stein – who ignored state law and flouted their conflicts of interest to kill voter ID in North Carolina – have now caused the vast majority of voters who support voter ID to be denied their day in court,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore in a joint statement.
Despite early voting changes under the now-banished law, early turnout in the Tar Heel State set a new record in 2016, with more than 3 million voting during the 17-day period in the general election. For all the complaining that the law was an attempt to depress minority Democrat voters, the evidence showed otherwise: 42 percent of early voters were registered Democrats; 32 percent registered Republicans; and 26 percent were unaffiliated voters. Early voting turnout favoring Democrats was similarly strong in the North Carolina primaries.
“While the Court noted that internal politics after the election imperiled the case, the fact remains that hundreds of examples of fraud were confirmed by North Carolina officials in 2016, many of which could have been prevented by the ID package,” Adams said.
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.”
Berger and Moore took Chief Justice Roberts’s statement to heart and vowed to pursue a voter ID law in North Carolina.
“Tar Heel voters, and the people representing them, can launch a new voter ID reform effort today,” Adams said.
Republished with permission from Tribune Washington Bureau via iCopyright license. Liberty Headlines editor Paul Chesser contributed to this report.