On Monday, the Supreme Court delivered a monumental voting rights victory when it declined to hear an appeal from Republican North Carolina legislators seeking to reinstate one of the broadest restrictive voting laws since Jim Crow after an appeals court struck it down in 2016. Passed almost immediately after the Supreme Court gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, this voter suppression law was so flagrantly and intentionally discriminatory that the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court said it targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision” in its decision invalidating the provisions, and Monday’s Supreme Court decision means that ruling stands.
Republicans had literally ordered data on which voting methods black voters used more than white voters, then eliminated those very methods. Some of the many changes included a harsh voter ID law that precluded types of ID that black voters were more likely to possess, cuts to early voting hours and locations, ending same-day registration, the removal of pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and blocking votes from being cast at the wrong precinct within a county. Republicans even tried to eliminate Sunday early voting specifically because predominantly black churches have historically conducted “souls to the polls” voter drives following services right before Election Day.
Republicans defended their law by claiming that it didn’t target black voters because of their race, but because they vote heavily Democratic, using a still brazenly undemocratic argument that the law was about party, not race. However, the Fourth Circuit’s ruling controversially held that when party and race are so intertwined as they are throughout the South, targeting the party that black voters overwhelmingly support (and whites largely don’t) via methods that knowingly single out black voters was still intentionally racially discriminatory—and thus illegal.
While the Supreme Court refusing to hear the appeal does leave the lower court’s decision in place, the conservative-majority high court didn’t rule against the law on the merits. They refused to take up the case because they held that North Carolina legislators themselves did not have standing to appeal, since they were not the defendants. Instead, North Carolina’s governor and state board of elections were the defendants, and after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper narrowly ousted GOP Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016’s pivotal election, he declined to maintain Republicans’ appeal, leaving no one with standing to defend the law.
This decision is a sweeping voting rights victory in North Carolina, but it does not preclude future rulings that are hostile to voting rights in other upcoming major cases.
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