he future of voting rights in the medium to long term is not rosy. President Donald Trump is making false claims that millions of voters fraudulently cast ballots in the 2016 election, perhaps as a predicate to a round of federal laws making it harder to register and vote. His administration seems poised to do a 180 in a case challenging Texas’ strict voter identification law, abandoning the Obama administration’s position that the law was discriminatory. Judge Neil Gorsuch, if confirmed, is likely to restore the Supreme Court to a Scalia-era status quo, a 5–4 court skeptical of broad protection for voting rights. But in the short term, there’s one simple action that could make voting rights a bit more secure: Roy Cooper, the new Democratic governor of North Carolina, and the state’s new Attorney General Josh Stein should withdraw a petition for writ of certiorari pending at the Supreme Court to review the 4th Circuit’s decision striking down North Carolina’s strict voting law.
Back in 2013, right after the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder withdrew federal supervision of voting rules in North Carolina and a bunch of other jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting, the state passed one of the largest rollbacks of voting rights since the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The law imposed a strict voter identification requirement, cut back on early voting, eliminated same-day voter registration, declared votes cast in the wrong precinct (even if the result of poll-worker error) could not be counted, and eliminated preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds.
Voting rights plaintiffs were joined by the United States government under the Obama administration in suing the state of North Carolina, arguing that the voting law violated both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. After two trials, a federal district court disagreed, issuing a lengthy decision. The 4th Circuit reversed, ruling that the challenged provisions of the voting law were unenforceable because they were passed with racially discriminatory intent.