WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification law, which a lower court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
The justices left in place the lower court ruling striking down the law’s photo ID requirement and scaling back of early voting.
The situation was complicated when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein tried to withdraw the appeal, which was first filed when Republican Pat McCrory was governor.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the political situation created uncertainty over who is authorized to seek review of the lower court ruling.
The dispute is similar to the court fight over Texas’ voter ID law, also struck down as racially discriminatory.
Republicans in both states moved to enact new voting measures after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act that had required them to get advance approval before changing laws dealing with elections.
Voters, civil rights groups and the Obama administration quickly filed lawsuits challenging the new laws. The Trump administration already has dropped its objections to the Texas law.
Shortly before Trump took office in January, the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to reject the North Carolina appeal.
When the law passed in July 2013, North Carolina Republicans said voter ID is a sound requirement to increase the integrity of elections. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said last July the state provided no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address.
The Richmond, Virginia-based court said the law was enacted with intentional bias against black voters. The law has been amended in 2015 to include a method for people unable to get a photo ID to still vote.
Following the appellate ruling, the state asked the high court to allow the challenged provisions to remain in effect in November’s election. The justices rejected the request by virtue of a 4-4 tie on most of the challenged provisions, with the four more conservative justices supporting the state’s bid.
Cooper and other Democrats praised the decision as a victory for the rights of minority voters and against attempts at discrimination, particularly by the GOP. The North Carolina state NAACP, other interest groups, voters and President Barack Obama’s Justice Department had sued to challenge the law.
“Thanks to the persistent efforts of civil rights activists and grassroots organizers, this law was exposed for exactly what it was: just another obvious solution in search of a problem,” Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said in a statement.
Roberts cautioned Monday that the rejection of the appeal is not a comment on the court’s view about the substance of the law.
GOP leaders in North Carolina’s legislature didn’t immediately offer comment. But state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes cited Roberts’ words while predicting in an email that Stein and Cooper ultimately would lose in their efforts to block voter ID.
“Republicans will continue to fight for common sense and constitutional voter ID measures, similar to what many other states already have,” said Hayes, a former congressman.