The Supreme Court on Monday refused to review the federal appeals court decision that found North Carolina's voting law unconstitutional because it "target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision."
North Carolina was one of several states to enact voting restrictions immediately after the Supreme Court struck down a critical part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
Last summer, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that five parts of the law "disproportionately affected African-Americans." The decision struck down voter identification provisions that "retained only those types of photo ID disproportionately held by whites and excluded those disproportionately held by African-Americans," a reduction in early voting from 17 days to 10 that eliminated one of two Sundays when black churches provided rides to the polls, an elimination of same-day registration and preregistration for some teenagers, and a ban on counting votes cast in the wrong precinct.
The Supreme Court declined to block the appeals court's ruling in response to an emergency appeal in September, but state Board of Elections officials nonetheless implemented parts of the law in the November elections. State officials asked again for review in December, but two months later, newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein asked the Court to dismiss the state's petition. Lawyers for the General Assembly opposed that motion. On Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Court's decision not to grant review should not be read as an opinion on the merits of the case.
Republican lawmakers immediately announced plans to introduce a new voter ID bill, which could pass within 10 days. "Due to a gerrymander that has been found to be unconstitutionally racist," Slate reports, "Republicans dominate the state legislature and will likely override Cooper's inevitable veto."
To survive another court challenge, any new voter restrictions will need a better justification than lawmakers have offered to date. As the Fourth Circuit wrote, the state "failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina." Instead, despite evidence of fraud in absentee voting by mail, which is used disproportionately by white voters, the legislature exempted absentee voting from the photo ID requirement.