You can find the 83 pages of decisions at this link. A partially divided panel of 4th Circuit judges reversed a massive trial court opinion which had rejected a number of constitutional and Voting Rights Act challenges to North Carolina’s strict voting law, a law I had said was the largest collection of voting rollbacks contained in a single law that I could find since the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act. The key part of the holding is that North Carolina acted with racially discriminatory intent. However, despite this finding of discriminatory intent, the 4th Circuit refused to use its discretion to put North Carolina back under federal supervision for up to 10 years for its voting. “Such remedies ‘[are] rarely used]’ and are not necessary here in light of our injunction.” Nonetheless, the finding of intentional discrimination could be the basis for a future argument for section 3 should North Carolina pass other discriminatory voting laws. What happens next? North Carolina could decide to go along (there’s nothing to do on remand in this opinion as the 4th Circuit wrote it). Or it could seek to take the case to the 4th Circuit en banc or to the Supreme Court. The state could well go to the 4th Circuit en banc; although that court is not nearly as conservative as it once was, not sure what North Carolina has to lose. And NC could go to the Supreme Court, as the case presents the very rich question of what it means to to engage in racially discriminatory intent when race and party so overlap. (I addressed this question in this Harvard Law Review forum piece: Race or Party?: How Courts Should Think About Republican Efforts to Make it Harder to Vote in North Carolina and Elsewhere). It is not clear that the evenly divided and shorthanded Supreme Court will bite, and I expect any attempt to get emergency relief from the Supreme Court will fail.
The way the opinion is written, by taking Section 3 preclearance off the table, probably makes Supreme Court review less likely, but I wouldn’t count it out.
This is a very big win for voting rights plaintiffs and the DOJ: This decision is the third voting rights win in two weeks: first in Wisconsin, where a federal district court recently softened the state’s strict voter id law (an issue now on appeal to the Seventh Circuit), and then in Texas, where the en banc 5th circuit not only ordered the trial court to fashion such softening, but it also opened the door to a finding of discriminatory intent, which can put Texas under federal supervision as well. Still it is not a complete victory, given the failure to get NC back under a federal preclearance regime.