It seemed like an important victory for voting rights advocates on Monday when the Supreme Court declined to reconsider an appellate decision striking down North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. But those who follow the arcana of election law have another view — that the justices have merely postponed a showdown over what kind of voting rules are acceptable and how much influence partisanship should have over access to the ballot box. And in that struggle, it is by no means certain who will prevail. A parade of voting rights cases is headed for likely review by the Supreme Court — including challenges to gerrymanders in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas and a ruling against another restrictive voter law in Texas. At the same time, states controlled by Republican legislatures and governors are continuing to enact stringent election laws, many of them similar to the ones already moving through the courts.
The pending cases and new laws raise some of the same issues the justices declined to address in the North Carolina case: What is the reach of the Voting Rights Act since the court struck down its most powerful provisions in 2012? Is it legal to disadvantage minority voters if the motivation is political gain, not racial or ethnic hostility? How heavily can the court weigh in on partisan issues like gerrymandering and voter ID requirements before it becomes even more enmeshed in partisanship itself?
“I think the right way to think about this is that North Carolina was a temporary victory in a very long war,” Heather K. Gerken, a scholar of election and constitutional law at Yale University, said in an interview. In an era of almost toxic partisanship, she said, “the court is the last bastion of legal craft, genuine argument and engagement.”