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U.S. High Court Won’t Revive North Carolina Voter-ID Law

  • Supreme Court justices divide 4-4 on order in voting dispute
  • Action is win for Obama administration, civil rights groups

An evenly divided U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate North Carolina’s Republican-backed voter-ID requirement for the November election, leaving intact a lower court’s conclusion that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against racial minorities.

The high court rejected the state’s bid to halt much of the federal appeals court ruling, splitting 4-4 along ideological lines on the central questions. The rebuff -- issued without explanation -- is a victory for the Obama administration and civil rights groups, which challenged the North Carolina law and won a ruling that is likely to help Democrats in November.

The North Carolina law also reduced the number of early-voting days and eliminated same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

A three-judge panel said the provisions "target African Americans with almost surgical precision," violating the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and the Voting Rights Act. A federal trial judge had upheld the law.

The state asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the photo-ID requirement and early-voting limits for the November election. The request didn’t address the rules governing same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

"North Carolina has been denied basic voting rights already granted to more than 30 other states to protect the integrity of one person, one vote through a common-sense voter ID law," the state’s governor, Republican Pat McCrory, said in a statement after the court’s action.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy voted to grant the core parts of the request, falling one vote short of the required five. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan voted against the state.

Scalia’s Death

The legal climate for voting restrictions has shifted since 2014, when the Supreme Court let a number of restrictions take effect, including some of North Carolina’s new rules. Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February left the Supreme Court without a reliable fifth vote to uphold restrictions.

Voting restrictions are meeting mixed fates in the run-up to the November election, with federal courts allowing some state limits but not others. Federal appeals courts have invalidated or softened voter-ID laws in Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

The North Carolina law was enacted in 2013, a month after the Supreme Court struck down a central part of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 law that opened the polls to millions of black Americans. The Supreme Court ruling effectively eliminated the requirement that parts of 15 states with histories of discrimination, including North Carolina, get federal approval before changing their voting rules.

North Carolina was among the first states to adopt voting changes after the decision.

“Today we achieved another major victory for justice, African Americans, Latinos, and all North Carolinians,” said William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, one of the groups that challenged the measure. "This critical rejection of the state’s position will allow the people of North Carolina to exercise the fundamental right to vote this November without expansive restrictions by racist politicians or racist policies."

The case is North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, 16A168.

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