Supreme Court Declines To Reinstate North Carolina's Voter ID Law

May 15, 2017
Originally published on May 15, 2017 4:40 pm
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The U.S. Supreme Court today left in place a lower court decision that struck down North Carolina's voter ID law. The justice's decision not to review the case means that the state's restrictions on voting are void - at least for now. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The restrictions were enacted by the Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature in 2013 shortly after a conservative Supreme Court majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. That provision had, until then, required areas with a history of discrimination in voting to get advance approval from the Justice Department or the federal courts before changing existing voting laws.

With a new and freer hand, North Carolina quickly adopted a strict voter ID requirement. The law also cut back dramatically on the number of early voting days, eliminated same-day registration and declared that votes cast in the wrong precinct, even if the result of poll worker error, could not be counted.

Last July, a federal appeals court threw out those restrictions, declaring that the legislature had targeted African-American voters, quote, "with almost surgical precision," and that it did so after receiving data specifically showing that disproportionate impact on minority voters. The state's Republican governor appealed to the Supreme Court, seeking reinstatement of the law, and the case was viewed as the upcoming constitutional test of voting restrictions that intentionally target racial groups in order to gain partisan advantage.

But in November, a new Democratic governor was elected, and he sought to withdraw the appeal. That, in turn, prompted the Republican legislature to object. The legal back-and-forth went several more rounds until today, when the court said it would not hear the appeal. In a written statement, Chief Justice John Roberts cautioned that given the blizzard of filings over who is and is not authorized under state law to seek review in the Supreme Court, it is important to remember that the court is not expressing any opinion on the merits.

That said, with a court that has a 5-to-4 majority of justices who generally are not friendly to voting rights claims, a decision not to hear this case is a victory for voting rights advocates, though perhaps a temporary one. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.