The U. S. Supreme Court has spoken — sort of — on the North Carolina legislature’s efforts to make voting harder. Indications are that the fight over voter identification and other restrictions is far from over, although it would be far better if it were.
The Supreme Court this week declined to take up the case after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found last summer that elements of the voting law adopted by the General Assembly were unconstitutional. The overturned law, passed in 2013, would have required voters to show photo identification at the polls. It would have prohibited registering to vote and casting a ballot on the same day, a popular practice during early voting periods — a period the law would have been shortened by a week. It would have prohibited out-of-precinct voting and allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister if they would be 18 on election day.
The appeals process was complicated by the defeat of Republican Pat McCrory, who signed and supported the law as governor. Democrat Roy Cooper, after his election and joined by his Democratic successor as attorney general, Josh Stein, asked to drop the state’s appeal. But Republican legislative leaders asked the court to allow them to continue the appeal on behalf of the state.
The Supreme Court pointed to those competing claims in deciding not to hear the state’s appeal, and was careful to underscore that it was not rendering a judgment on the merits of the case. “Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this Court under North Carolina law,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “it is important to recall our frequent admonition that ... denial of the writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case.”
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Predictably, opponents of the law were quick to welcome the decision. “This is a great victory ... vindicating the nearly four-year fight for fair access to the ballot in the state,” said Caitlin Swain, an attorney who represented the challengers.
Just as predictably, supporters vowed to renew the fight. “Republicans will continue to fight for common sense and constitutional voter ID measures,” state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said after the high court decision. While Cooper and Stein “have stymied voter ID for now, they will ultimately lose in their efforts to block North Carolina citizens from having these protections.”
With the voter ID provision blocked, there was last November, as in previous elections, virtually no evidence of fraudulent voting despite plentiful — and fanciful — charges to the contrary. We hope GOP lawmakers rethink their initial reaction and let the court’s ruling be the last word.