High Court Serves Defeat to North Carolina’s Voter-ID Law

WASHINGTON (CN) – North Carolina’s warring lawmakers failed Monday to have the U.S. Supreme Court take up a battle over a voter-identification law struck down as discriminatory.

One of dozens of cases denied certiorari this morning by the high court, the dispute at issue stems from a political power struggle that has gripped the state since the last election.

When Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office this year, his new attorney general moved to withdrew the petition for certiorari filed by the outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory. North Carolina’s Republican-controlled General Assembly tried to revive the state’s appeal, but the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed their efforts Monday.

Chief Justice John Roberts explained in an accompanying statement that the order says nothing about the merits of North Carolina’s law.

“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 ‘the denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case,’” he wrote.

The North Carolina Legislature had enacted the 2013 voter-ID law at issue following what the Fourth Circuit called “unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting.”

Though a federal judge had sided with the state after a trial, the Fourth Circuit reversed in July 2016, ruling the law unconstitutional.

“The District Court clearly erred in ignoring or dismissing this historical background evidence, all of which supports a finding of discriminatory intent,” U.S. Circuit Judge Diana Motz wrote for the court’s three-judge panel.

Chief Justice Roberts laid out the provisions of Session Law 2013–381 in his brief opinion. It  “contained measures (1) requiring voters to present an approved form of photo identification before casting a valid ballot; (2) reducing the early voting period from 17 to 10 days; (3) eliminating out-of-precinct voting; (4) eliminating same-day registration and voting; and (5) eliminating preregistration by 16-year-olds,” the ruling states.

Roberts noted that the United States joined private citizens in challenging the law, “claiming that those measures had a discriminatory effect … and had been motivated by discriminatory intent.”

After state Attorney General Josh Stein moved this year to dismiss the petition of certiorari, the North Carolina General Assembly argued that the law gave Stein no such power.

State lawmakers claim they have express permission to retain private counsel, and the speaker and the president pro tempore of the Assembly also filed a conditional motion to intervene.

Roberts noted that the law’s private challengers filed a reply, “arguing that the speaker and the president pro tempore lack standing to intervene because North Carolina law does not authorize them to represent the state’s interests in federal court.”

“According to the private respondents,” Roberts added, “the speaker and the president pro tempore erroneously rely on a state statute that governs intervention in state proceedings.”

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