Of all the states that rushed to restrict voting after the Supreme Court’s disastrous 2013 ruling to strike down key Voting Rights Act protections, North Carolina moved the most aggressively. It enacted multiple voter-suppression measures, including voter-ID requirements, restrictions on early voting, and an end to same-day registration, Sunday voting, and pre-registration for teenagers. The day the law was signed, the ACLU and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed suit on the grounds that the statute discriminated against minority voters in violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments. After a bumpy ride through the lower courts, the law landed in August before the Supreme Court, which upheld a three-judge federal appeals court panel’s finding that its voter ID-provisions were unconstitutional. As Judge Diana Motz wrote in the three-judge panel’s unanimous decision, the requirements “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Nevertheless, all four Republican-nominated justices on the Supreme Court held that most or all of the North Carolina law should be reinstated—a discouraging outcome that went against my own predictions. The only thing that prevented North Carolina from putting its voting restrictions into effect for the November election was the high court’s current 4-4 split due to the death this year of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Since then, the high court has let stand two additional lower court rulings involving contested election laws—one in favor of voting rights advocates, and another in favor of Republicans seeking to restrict access to the ballot. Last week, the Court let stand a lower court ruling that blocked Michigan from banning so-called straight-ticket voting, a prohibition that a federal judge had said would hurt African American voters. And this week, the Court without comment allowed to stand a Sixth Circuit decision that upheld Ohio Republicans’ plan to eliminate the “Golden Week” that allows residents to register and vote simultaneously. These conflicting moves underscore the fragile status of voting rights under a Court that is stalemated 4-4.
The North Carolina case, in particular, illustrates where the Court’s conservatives really stand—and how endangered voting rights would be were they to regain a majority. One reason the fight has been so contentious and protracted is that state officials, in their overt determination to suppress minority voters, have openly defied the rulings of the Court. And North Carolina could well play a decisive role in this election’s outcome, both in the presidential contest, and in its closely contested Senate race. Should Clinton become president, which party controls the Senate could in turn determine whether or not she can win confirmation for Scalia’s replacement. The fight over voting restrictions in North Carolina, therefore, could impact the makeup of the Supreme Court—and the future of voting rights in America, particularly in the event that one or more Democrat-appointed justices retires.
Full Article: North Carolina’s Fragile Voting Rights Victory.