Supreme Court won't hear appeal of North Carolina voter ID ruling
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court rejected an appeal to restore North Carolina's voter identification law, it announced on Monday. A lower court said the law wrongfully targeted African-American voters "with almost surgical precision."
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law in July. North Carolina Republicans asked the Supreme Court to review the Circuit Court's decision. By declining to review the case, the Supreme Court has essentially confirmed that the lower court's decision will stand.
Republicans Challenged Appeals Court's Ruling
Federal courts, such as the courts of appeals, hear cases to decide whether they violate federal law or the Constitution. Decisions are made by judges, not juries. The United States' 13 courts of appeals are below the Supreme Court.
The disputed law was passed in North Carolina in 2013. It required that people show an ID card with their photo on it in order to cast a ballot. It also scaled back opportunities for people to vote before election day, known as early voting.
The dispute is similar to the court case over a different voter ID law Republicans introduced in Texas. It was also struck down for being racially discriminatory.
People who support voter ID laws are concerned that certain voters may lie about who they are, or could try to vote when they are ineligible. This is a serious crime known as voter fraud. Many Republicans support voter ID laws.
Section Of Voting Rights Act Struck Down
The 2013 laws in North Carolina and Texas came after a landmark Supreme Court case. The case struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, a law passed in 1965 to help end racial discrimination in voting. One section required certain states to get approval from the federal government before making changes to their voting laws. Whether or not a state had to follow this rule was based on their past record in voter discrimination.
The Supreme Court's ruling energized Republicans in Texas and North Carolina. They jumped at the chance to create new voting laws without needing federal approval.
Voters, civil rights groups and the Obama administration quickly filed lawsuits that challenged the Republicans' new laws. The law was amended in 2015 to include a way for people who were unable to get a photo ID to still vote.
Bias Against Black Voters Was Found
When the North Carolina law passed in July 2013, state Republicans said voter ID is a good requirement. They believe it increases fairness and honesty in elections.
But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond Va., disagreed. In July 2016, it said that North Carolina provided no evidence of in-person voter fraud in elections. Such evidence would prove that new voter ID laws are necessary.
The Court concluded that the voter ID law was put in place with intentional bias against black voters. Black voters have been shown to be negatively affected by these laws.
After that, the state of North Carolina appealed the decision, taking the case to the Supreme Court. Leaders in North Carolina wanted the stricter voter ID laws to stay in effect for the election in November 2016.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, there were only eight justices instead of the typical nine, and they tied 4-4 in votes on whether they would hear the appeal. When Barack Obama was President, a seat opened up on the Supreme Court. The seat remained open because Congress, dominated by Republicans, refused to confirm the nominee that Obama, a Democrat, selected. Since there was no majority in the 4-4 tie, the appeal was rejected.
Democrats Wanted The Appeal Cancelled
State leaders in North Carolina continued pressing the issue, even after the November election. In December, state officials again pressed the Supreme Court to hear the case.
In January, the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to reject the North Carolina appeal. At the time, President Obama was still in charge of the Justice Department, the part of the federal branch of government responsible for law enforcement.
Later that month, North Carolina got a new governor, Democrat Roy Cooper. After he was sworn in, he requested that the appeal be cancelled.
Finally, after nearly four years of uncertainty, the Supreme Court decided it would stay out of the fight. As a result, the decision of the appeals court will hold.
Governor Cooper and other Democrats praised the Supreme Court's decision, calling it a victory for the rights of minority voters. They said the decision represented a victory over attempts at discrimination by Republicans.
Court Took No Position On The Merits Of Voter ID Laws
Tom Perez is chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He thanked civil rights activists and grassroots organizers for their "persistent efforts" to fight the law.
Typically, the Supreme Court does not provide a reason for declining to hear a case. Chief Justice John Roberts cautioned Monday that though the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, it does not mean they are saying whether they believe voter ID law itself is good or bad.
Republican leaders in North Carolina's legislature didn't immediately offer comment. But Robin Hayes, head of the state's Republican Party, said in an email that Democrats ultimately would lose in their efforts to block voter ID laws.
"Republicans will continue to fight for common sense and constitutional voter ID measures, similar to what many other states already have," said Hayes.