A coalition of civil rights groups, Democratic lawyers and the Obama administration has scored significant victories in overturning strict voting laws, highlighting how the death of Justice Antonin Scalia has removed the Supreme Court as a crucial conservative backstop for such measures. With the presidential election approaching, the challengers have rung up wins against their two top targets. Texas and North Carolina are now under judicial order to shelve comprehensive voting laws, passed by Republican legislators, that appeals courts said discriminated against African Americans and Hispanics. In Wisconsin, federal courts restored some early-voting opportunities — seen as beneficial to African American voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic — that had been scotched by the state legislature. And a federal judge has been tasked with overseeing the state’s efforts to make it easier for those without the documentation required by the state to cast ballots.
Of the three states, only North Carolina even tried to get the Supreme Court to put the lower-court decisions on hold. But without Scalia, who died in February, to provide a fifth vote for conservatives, the high court deadlocked 4 to 4, and the lower-court prohibitions remained in place.
With the Supreme Court at an ideological impasse and Senate Republicans refusing to allow hearings for President Obama’s nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, the final state rules for elections throughout the country are likely to be set in a variety of rulings by state courts and lower-level federal judges.