The Supreme Court’s refusal to breathe new life into North Carolina’s sweeping voter identification law might be just a temporary victory for civil rights groups. Republican-led states are continuing to enact new voter ID measures and other voting restrictions, and the Supreme Court’s newly reconstituted conservative majority, with the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch, could make the court less likely to invalidate the laws based on claims under the federal Voting Rights Act or the Constitution. The justices on Monday left in place last summer’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the law’s photo ID requirement to vote in person and other provisions, which the lower court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
But Chief Justice John Roberts noted that the court’s decision to stay out of the case rested on a partisan dispute over who had the authority to present North Carolina’s case to the court, not the justices’ views on the substance of the issue.
Indeed, before Gorsuch joined the court, the other eight justices split 4-4 over whether to allow the challenged provisions to remain in effect despite the court ruling striking them down.
In January, when the high court rejected a Texas appeal over its voter ID law, Roberts practically invited Texas Republicans to bring their appeal back to the Supreme Court after lower court consideration of the issue is finished. “The issues will be better suited for certiorari review at that time,” Roberts wrote, using the Latin term for the court’s process of deciding whether to hear a case.