In a coup for voting rights activists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge to a ruling last year that struck down key parts of North Carolina's voting law. The law, enacted in 2013 by the General Assembly's GOP majority, imposed a range of voting restrictions, including new voter ID requirements, shorter early-voting periods, elimination, and same-day registration.
Monday's decision essentially leaves in place a federal appeals court ruling, which concluded that Republicans targeted African-Americans "with almost surgical precision."
SCOTUS will not review decision invalidating NC voter ID law. CJ Roberts writes to emphasize SCOTUS isn’t endorsing the ruling.— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) May 15, 2017
The law, SL 2013–381, required voters to present an approved ID, reduced the early voting period to ten from seventeen days, and got rid of out-of-precinct voting, same-day registration, and preregistration by sixteen-year-olds.
As Diana Gibbon Motz of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote: "Although the new provisions target
African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.
The state justice department under Governor McCrory appealed the finding, but after Governor Cooper took office, he notified the court that the state would not appeal the decision. The Republican leadership of the General Assembly then attempted to pursue the appeal on its own.
An email requesting comment from Senate leader Phil Berger was not immediately returned.
In a statement released along with the refusal, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts made reference to the "blizzard of findings" over who might appropriately appeal in a statement. Roberts also noted pointedly that the refusal to hear the case did not mean that the high court agreed with the lower court's decision to strike down the law.
Cooper released a statement Monday morning endorsing the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the appeal.
“Today’s announcement is good news for North Carolina voters. We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder—and the Court found this law sought to discriminate against African-American voters with ‘surgical precision,’” the governor said in his statement. "I will continue to work to protect the right of every legal, registered North Carolinian to participate in our democratic process."
Meanwhile, NC GOP Chairman Robin Hayes blasted the Court’s ruling.
"Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Stein have blocked the people’s desire for voter I.D. and other common-sense voting protections," Hayes said in a statement. "However, as noted by Chief Justice Roberts, 'The denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case.' Republicans will continue to fight for common sense and constitutional voter I.D. measures, similar to what many other states already have. While Governor Cooper and Attorney General Stein have stymied voter I.D. for now, they will ultimately lose in their efforts to block North Carolina citizens from having these protections."
On Twitter, the NC GOP announced that it would be holding a press conference in response to the decision Monday afternoon.
Cooper took office on January 1. He and state Attorney General Josh Stein withdrew the state's petition to appeal the Fourth Circuit decision in February.
"Voting is how people hold their government accountable," Stein said then in a statement announcing the decision to withdraw. "I support efforts to guarantee fair and honest elections, but those efforts should not be used as an excuse to make it harder for people to vote."
The N.C. State Board of Elections released an audit last month showing that 508 North Carolinians had voted illegally in the 2016 elections. Of them, voter ID could have prevented one from voting.