The United States Supreme Court declined to reinstate the most onerous voter ID law in any state today when they deadlocked on whether to stay the appeals court decision in North Carolina.
The North Carolina legislature enacted the law in the wake of the Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down the federal formula used to determine which state and local governments must obtain advance approval for any changes to their voting rules. The law would require North Carolina voters to show a government-issued photo ID, reduce the number of days for early voting, and eliminate out-of-precinct voting, same-day voter registration, and preregistration for young voters.
A federal trial court upheld the law against claims that it was racially discriminatory. But in late July of this year, a federal appeals court barred the state from enforcing the law. The court of appeals rejected the state’s explanation that the law was intended to combat voter fraud and “promote public confidence in the election system.” Rather, the court of appeals concluded, the law “hinges explicitly on race—specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to” voting.
The splits were predictable, and disappointing.
Today’s one-page order gave no explanation for the Court’s ruling. However, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito indicated that they would have granted the state’s request and allowed it to enforce the voter ID requirement and reduction in early voting; Justice Clarence Thomas would have granted the request in its entirety. Notably, on August 3 Justice Stephen Breyer joined his more conservative colleagues in voting to block a federal district court order that would have required a Virginia school board to allow a transgender student who identifies as a boy to use the boys’ bathroom when school resumes last week; Breyer indicated that he did so “as a courtesy.” Breyer did not do so today.