The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that North Carolina could not enforce provisions of its strict voting law during this fall’s presidential election.
The justices split 4 to 4 on a request by attorneys for the State of North Carolina to stay a federal appeals court decision ruling the law unconstitutional. The one-page order gave no reason for the denial.
Wednesday’s order came in a case brought against the state by voting rights advocates and the Department of Justice challenging certain provisions of an omnibus voter restriction law passed by North Carolina Republicans in 2013. In late July, a federal appeals court found that five key provisions of the law targeted “African Americans with an almost surgical provision” and blocked them from taking effect. Those provisions include a photo ID requirement, the elimination of same-day voter registration, an end to pre-registration of young voters, cutbacks to early voting, and a ban on out-of-precinct voting.
The State of North Carolina hired conservative litigator Paul Clement to handle its request to the Roberts Court. Clement’s many Supreme Court wins include his handling of Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that largely gutted the Voting Rights Act. Following that decision, states like North Carolina rushed to enact restrictive voting rights laws, like the one at issue Wednesday.
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In the petition Clement had requested the court allow North Carolina to implement some of the invalidated provisions, including its photo ID requirement, pre-registration ban, and early voting limits, prior to the November 2016 election. Wednesday’s order denied that request in its entirety.
“The Supreme Court was correct to deny North Carolina’s last-ditch effort to undermine African-American voter participation in the November election,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, in a statement following the decision. “This ruling means that thousands of voters who would have been disenfranchised will now be able to participate in the presidential election.”
According to Wednesday’s order, all four of the conservative justices were willing to side with the state and grant North Carolina’s request. But North Carolina needed five votes to stay the appeals court’s order, providing another example of the effect the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February has had on conservatives’ ability to gain key wins before the Roberts Court.