Jus­tices block stricter voter ID law in N.C.

High court says it won’t step in, re­in­state lim­its

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By David G. Sav­age

WASH­ING­TON — The Supreme Court on Wed­nes­day turned away an emer­gency ap­peal from North Carolina’s Repub­li­can lead­ers who were hop­ing to re­in­state new vot­ing rules that were struck down in July as racially bi­ased.

The jus­tices said they were dead­locked 4-4 and would not in­ter­vene, leav­ing in place the state’s rules for cast­ing bal­lots and early vot­ing that were used be­fore 2013. The vote split along ide­o­log­i­cal lines.

The court’s de­ci­sion is a vic­tory for civil rights ad­vo­cates and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion lawyers who had chal­lenged North Carolina’s rules as vi­o­lat­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act. The out­come also may give a slight boost to Democrats, in­clud­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton, who will need strong sup­port from mi­nor­ity vot­ers to pre­vail in Novem­ber.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who is locked in a tight race for re-elec­tion, had ap­pealed to the high court two weeks ago and con­tended his state would suf­fer “ir­repara­ble harm” if it could not en­force its new voter ID re­stric­tions.

But the Jus­tice De­part­ment urged the court to stand back and per­mit the Novem­ber elec­tion to go for­ward “free from the taint of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Chief Jus­tice John Roberts and Jus­tices An­thony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sa­muel Al­ito said they would have granted the emer­gency ap­peal. All four are Repub­li­can ap­pointees. It takes a ma­jor­ity of five votes to grant such an ap­peal, which means that the court’s four Demo­cratic ap- Gov. Pat McCrory said North Carolina “has been de­nied ba­sic vot­ing rights” granted to more than 30 other states. pointees, Jus­tices Ruth Bader Gins­burg, Stephen Breyer, So­nia So­tomayor and Elena Ka­gan, voted to deny the ap­peal.

Cur­rently, new vot­ers in North Carolina are re­quired to pre­sent some form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, such as a driver’s li­cense, So­cial Se­cu­rity or photo ID card, when they reg­is­ter. To cast a bal­lot at a polling place, they must pro­vide a name, ad­dress and sign a form at­test­ing to their iden­tity. The sig­na­ture is com­pared to the one on the registry.

The new law would have re­quired fur­ther proof of iden­tity at the time of vot­ing, a step that an ap­peals court ruled in July could pre­vent thou­sands of reg­is­tered vot­ers who do not drive a car from cast­ing a bal­lot.

Al­li­son Riggs, an at­tor­ney for the South­ern Coali­tion for So­cial Jus­tice, said the court’s de­ci­sion is “in the best in­ter­est of North Carolina vot­ers, al­low­ing elec­tions this fall to pro­ceed ab­sent the cloud and con­cern of racially dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing laws.”

McCrory said that North Carolina “has been de­nied ba­sic vot­ing rights al­ready granted to more than 30 other states to pro­tect the in­tegrity of one per­son, one vote through a com­mon­sense voter ID law.”

He noted that his ap­peal won four votes at the high court, even though it was filed “with­out any sup­port from our state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral.” Here­ferred to state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Roy Cooper, a Demo­crat, who is run­ning against McCrory.

North Carolina im­posed the new law in 2013 after a 5-4 Supreme Court rul­ing struck down a key part of the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act. It had barred the South­ern states from chang­ing their elec­tion laws with­out first win­ning clear­ance from the Jus­tice De­part­ment in Wash­ing­ton.

Freed from fed­eral over­sight, a state Se­nate leader an­nounced plans to re­vise elec­tion rules.

GOP law­mak­ers “re­quested and re­ceived racial data” on how dif­fer­ent vot­ing rules would help or hurt racial mi­nori­ties. And they then adopted, on a party­line vote, ... changes to the elec­tion pro­ce­dures that “tar­geted African-Amer­i­cans with al­most sur­gi­cal pre­ci­sion,” the 4th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals found in July.

While the high court re­fused to al­low the dis­puted law to be en­forced this year, the state’s lawyers still may file an ap­peal seek­ing a re­view of the 4th Cir­cuit’s de­ci­sion.

CHUCK LIDDY/RALEIGH NEWS & OB­SERVER

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