US top court lets North Carolina voter law die, pleasing rights groups

After a drawn-out legal battle, a federal appeals court in July 2016 struck down passages of the law that it said were meant to “target African Americans with nearly surgical precision”.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rebuffed a Republican bid to revive a strict North Carolina voter-identification law that a lower court found deliberately discriminated against black voters, handing a victory to Democrats and civil rights groups. “While Governor Cooper and Attorney General (Josh) Stein have stymied voter ID for now, they will ultimately lose in their efforts to block North Carolina citizens from having these protections”.

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In a statement released with the court order Monday morning, Chief Justice John Roberts drew attention to the uncertainty this case had left in the procedural aspect, namely the disagreement over who was authorized to file an appeal on behalf of the state.

“This is a victory against voter suppression and should send a message to other states that such extreme and racially discriminatory laws will be struck down”, Janai Nelson, associate director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement.

The legislature’s top Republicans, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, said in a statement that they would enact a new voter-identification law.

Roberts, however, also stressed that the justices weren’t deciding that the lower court was right to strike down the North Carolina requirements.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has made a decision to allow the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy nor our elections”, Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, noted in a statement.

FILE — North Carolina voters wait in line outside a library in Asheville on Super Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Democrats have said the laws are voter suppression measures meant to make it harder for groups that tend to back Democratic candidates, including black and Hispanic voters, to cast ballots.

Republicans in both states moved to enact new voting measures after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act that had required them to get advance approval before changing laws dealing with elections. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP failed to garner the five votes necessary to be granted a writ of certiorari, meaning that the Fourth Circuit’s current ruling against the law will stand for now.

Lawyers for the state’s General Assembly, where Republicans still hold the majority, urged the court to still hear the case.

Given the significance of voting suppression on the very communities that often most need the help of our elected-officials, we surely hope this decision is a step in the right direction toward a true democracy.

After that law was challenged by civil rights groups, a trial judge agreed that the new N.C. law was not unconstitutional, but a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Viriginia, disagreed.

In its ruling, the appeals court said the law was intentionally created to discriminate against black people.

In the meantime, Republican state lawmakers remain eager to enact new voter restrictions.

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