The Supreme Court will not review a decision that found North Carolina’s 2013 voting law discriminated against African American voters, the justices said Monday.
A unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had found in 2016 that North Carolina legislators had acted “with almost surgical precision” to blunt the influence of African American voters.
And last summer the Supreme Court had divided evenly on whether the law could be used in last fall’s election while the appeals continued.
But the election resulted in a new Democratic governor and a Democratic attorney general, and they had told the court they did not want to defend the law enacted by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. The Republicans had asked to continue the appeal.
In an order saying the court would not review the lower court’s decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. cited the state’s changed political scene, and indicated that not all of the justices agreed with the lower court’s decision.
“Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this court under North Carolina law, it is important to recall our frequent admonition that ‘the denial of a writ of certiori imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case,'” Roberts wrote.
Last summer he and the court’s other conservatives – Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. – would have granted the request to use the law in the 2016 elections.
But they were unable to find a necessary fifth vote from one of the court’s four liberals.
The outcome was a major victory for the Obama administration, the Justice Department and a wide group of civil rights organizations that challenged North Carolina’s law, which was one of the country’s most far-reaching.
A unanimous panel of the 4th Circuit on July 29 agreed with allegations from the Justice Department and civil rights groups that North Carolina’s bill selectively chose voter-ID requirements, reduced the number of early-voting days and changed registration procedures in ways meant to harm blacks, who overwhelmingly vote for the Democratic Party.
“The new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the panel. “Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the state’s true motivation.”
The state disputed the ruling and had asked the Supreme Court to allow part of the law to be used this November: restoring the photo-ID requirements, reducing the number of early-voting days from 17 to 10 and ending the state’s practice of preregistering teenagers to vote so that they are enrolled when they turn 18.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Robert Barnes