Justices refuse to hear appeal that would have reinstated ballot restrictions
BY GREG STOHR
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court dealt an unexpected blow to the voter-identification movement Monday, refusing to reinstate North Carolina ballot restrictions that a lower court said target Blacks “with almost surgical precision.”
Turning away the appeal by state Republican leaders, the justices left intact a ruling that said the provisions were racially discriminatory in violation of federal voting-rights law.
In addition to requiring people to show a photo ID, the North Carolina law reduced the number of early-voting days and eliminated same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.
The rebuff was a surprise because four conservative justices previously tried to revive the measure before the 2016 election. That effort failed because it was an emergency request that required five votes, but the court could have accepted the latest appeal with only four votes.
In a statement that accompanied the court’s order Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts pointed to uncertainty over an important procedural aspect of the case, disagreement over who was authorized to file an appeal on behalf of the state.
The Obama administration and civil rights groups challenged the North Carolina law. A three-judge panel said the provisions violated the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and the Voting Rights Act. A federal trial judge had upheld the law.
2013 act change
The North Carolina law was enacted in 2013, a month after the Supreme Court struck down a central part of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 law that opened the polls to millions of Black Americans.
The Supreme Court ruling effectively eliminated the requirement that parts of 15 states with histories of discrimination, including North Carolina, get federal approval before changing their voting rules.
North Carolina was among the first states to adopt voting changes after the decision.
Voting restrictions met mixed fates in the run-up to the last year’s election, with federal courts allowing some state limits but not others.
Federal appeals courts invalidated or softened voter-ID laws in Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
The North Carolina dispute provoked unusual courtroom wrangling among the state’s elected officials. The state filed its appeal using private lawyers when Republican Pat McCrory was governor.
McCrory lost the November election, and the man who defeated him — Democrat Roy Cooper — tried to withdraw the appeal. The lawyers pressing the appeal, however, told the justices that they represented the Republican-controlled General Assembly, not the governor.