Supreme Court rejects appeal over NC voter ID law
Posted May 15, 2017 10:16 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:39 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal to reinstate North Carolina's voter identification law, which a lower court said targeted African-Americans "with almost surgical precision."
The justices left in place the lower court ruling striking down the law's photo ID requirement and reduction in early voting.
The situation was complicated when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein tried to withdraw the appeal, which was first filed when Republican Pat McCrory was governor.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the political situation led to a "blizzard of filings" that made it unclear who could seek review of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.
"We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder, and the court found this law sought to discriminate against African-American voters with 'surgical precision,'" Cooper said in a statement. "I will continue to work to protect the right of every legal, registered North Carolinian to participate in our democratic process."
"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," House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a joint statement.
The dispute is similar to the court fight over Texas' voter ID law, also struck down as racially discriminatory.
Republicans in both states moved to enact new voting measures after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act that had required them to get advance approval before changing laws dealing with elections.
Voters, civil rights groups and the Obama administration quickly filed lawsuits challenging the new laws. The Trump administration already has dropped its objections to the Texas law.
Shortly before Trump took office in January, the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to reject the North Carolina appeal.
When the law passed, North Carolina Republicans said voter ID is a sound requirement to increase the integrity of elections. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the state provided no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address. The Richmond, Va.-based court said the law was enacted with intentional bias against black voters. The law was amended in 2015 to include a method for people unable to get a photo ID to still vote.
Following the appellate ruling, the state asked the high court to allow the challenged provisions to remain in effect in November's election. The justices rejected the request by virtue of a 4-4 tie on most of the challenged provisions, with the four more conservative justices supporting the state's bid.
Roberts cautioned Monday that the rejection of the appeal is not a comment on the court's view about the substance of the law, which prompted North Carolina GOP officials to call for a renewed effort to pass voter ID legislation.
"All North Carolinians can rest assured that Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the common-sense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote," Moore, R-Cleveland, and Berger, R-Rockingham, said in their statement.
"We think that voter ID is eminently fair for everyone," state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said. "No way does anyone want to suppress the vote. We want to make sure more people vote, want to make sure that they have the chance to vote legally."
Hayes said state lawmakers will likely pick elements from voter ID laws in other states that have survived legal challenges to craft new legislation for North Carolina, although it's unclear how quickly they will act.
"Let's stick with the basics and build a case around the things that are precedent and already in place in other states," he said. "We're going to make sure, again, that our citizens are given the same rights that people in numerous other states are already granted – and that number continues to grow."
Meanwhile, some of the groups that filed lawsuits to overturn the law quickly claimed victory.
"This is a win," said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. "You can't discriminate against voters because of their race, and I think that you can't put in place a whole host of measures all at once all with the impact of making it hard to vote."
"An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing," Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.
"The restoration of early voting hours and the reinstatement of same-day voter registration, along with the elimination of an onerous voter ID requirement, have been a victory for North Carolina voters," Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said in a statement. "However, we must continue to be vigilant against any further attempt by the NC General Assembly to enact unfair, unnecessary and unconstitutional barriers to voting."
"We urge the General Assembly to finally accept that racially discriminatory laws have no place in our democracy and certainly not when it comes to the sacred right to vote," Rev. William Barber, state president of the NAACP, said in a statement. "The legislature cannot erect barriers that are plainly motivated by a desire to disenfranchise African-American and Latino voters and undermine the growing voting strength of communities of color. Now is the time to move forward toward a shared prosperous future for all North Carolinians and to heal the core of our democracy in this state and in this nation."