The U.S. Supreme Court’s handling of North Carolina’s long-shot bid to reinstate its contentious voter identification law will set the tone for the court’s treatment of similar cases that could reach the justices before the Nov. 8 elections. Voter identification laws were adopted by several states in recent years, generally driven by Republicans who said the laws were meant to prevent election fraud. Democrats have argued that the laws were meant to keep minorities, who tend to vote for Democrats, away from the polls. Civil rights groups have challenged the laws in court. The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 29 invalidated the North Carolina law, ruling that it intentionally discriminated against minority voters.
Attorneys for North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, filed court papers late on Monday with Chief Justice John Roberts, seeking restoration of parts of the law and arguing the appeals court was wrong to set it aside so close to the election.
The Supreme Court rarely grants such emergency requests, and is even less likely to do so now because it is down to only eight justices, rather than the usual nine, following the February death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. He was a likely vote to put the North Carolina law back in place for the election. But the court is now split evenly between liberals and conservatives.
“With a 4-4 court they are going to be very reticent (to intervene), whatever the topic,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at University of California, Irvine School of Law.