By Lisa Soronen
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal's decision holding that North Carolina’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act.
The 4th Circuit ruling received a lot of attention because in a sharply worded opinion, which overruled a district court decision, it held the North Carolina’s voter ID law intentionally discriminates against black voters. Most courts that have struck down voter ID laws have done so on the grounds they have a disparate impact on minority voters.
The day after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), eliminating the requirement that particular states, including North Carolina, preclear changes to voting laws, a leader of the Republican Party announced his intention to enact as an “omnibus” election law.
According to the 4th Circuit: “[B]efore enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.”
The 4th Circuit struck down all five of the challenged changes to North Carolina’s voting law describing how they “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and “come as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times.”
North Carolina argued that regardless of the intent of the North Carolina law it didn’t actually have the effect of reducing African-American voter participation. “[A] photo-ID law more lenient than the one this court upheld eight years ago . . . and other voting adjustments that were already in effect during two statewide elections in which African-American participation increased.”
Shortly after the 4th Circuit’s decision, a new governor and attorney general were elected in North Carolina. The new attorney general filed a motion to dismiss the case before the Supreme Court. The
speaker and the president pro tempore of the General Assembly objected to the motion to dismiss and asked to intervene in the case.
In an unusual move, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a “statement” regarding the court’s decision not to hear this case which ended as follows: “Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this court under North Carolina law, it is important to recall our frequent admonition that [t]he denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case.”
Lisa Soronen is executive director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to the NCSL Blog on judicial matters.