In a big win for voting rights, the Supreme Court on Monday announced it won’t take up a case involving a challenge to North Carolina’s strict voting law. The news means last year’s federal appeals court ruling blocking the 2013 law as racially discriminatory will stand.
But, undeterred, North Carolina Republicans said immediately that they’ll now aim to pass a new restrictive voting law.
Last July, a federal appeals court struck down the heart of the 2013 law, known as the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), which imposed an ID requirement, cut early voting, eliminated same-day voter registration, and in several other ways made voting harder. Noting that blacks were more likely to lack ID, to vote early, and to use same-day registration, the court found that VIVA “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Chief Justice John Roberts made clear that Monday’s announcement wasn’t a ruling on the merits, and suggested that an ongoing disagreement between North Carolina’s Republican legislature and its Democratic governor over whether to drop the state’s appeal entirely had played into the decision.
“Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this Court under North Carolina law,” Roberts wrote, “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.’”
Legislative leaders seized on Roberts’s words to make clear that they’re not giving up the fight for voting restrictions.
“In light of Chief Justice Roberts’s statement that the ruling was not based on the merits of voter ID, all North Carolinians can rest assured that Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the commonsense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger in a statement issued hours after the Supreme Court’s announcement.
Republicans currently hold veto-proof super-majorities in both chambers, thanks to a racially discriminatory gerrymander — though state legislative elections planned for this fall with new maps could change that.
But as the election law professor Rick Hasen warned Monday, if North Carolina passes another voting law that courts find to be intentionally racially discriminatory, it could lead to the state being put back under the system of federal “pre-clearance” that was in effect until 2013, when the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. VIVA was passed just weeks after Shelby.
Foes of VIVA, which had helped sparked a broad-based popular opposition movement, cheered the decision.
“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to allow the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy nor our elections,” Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Justice, said in a statement. “This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race.”
The Supreme Court is still expected to take up a voting rights case relatively soon, and use it to issue a broad ruling on how far states can go in restricting voting rights. Monday’s news means the likeliest candidates are now from Texas: either the state’s strict voter ID law or its redistricting plan, both of which have been blocked as intentionally racially discriminatory.