The US Supreme Court on Monday dealt a severe blow to a North Carolina voting law widely seen as discriminating against African Americans.
The Supreme Court opted not to hear the case, thereby leaving in place a ruling by a federal appeals court that had struck down key parts of the legislation enacted by the Republican-dominated state legislature in 2013.
The law was criticized for enacting rules that appeared designed to sideline African American voters, such as reducing the time period for early voting, prohibiting voters from registering on the day of the election, and forcing them to present certain types of photo ID.
The rules were slammed by the Obama administration as deliberately targeting African Americans, who traditionally vote Democrat, and prompted a law suit by the NAACP, the leading civil rights group for African Americans.
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 almost surgical precision.”
The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case came as a surprise, as the majority of its judges are now conservatives and four of them had argued in favor of the law last year. The decision had been deadlocked 4-4, but the appointment by President Trump earlier this year of conservative Neil Gorsuch appeared to have tipped the balance.
The case fell foul of procedural stumbling blocks, after North Carolina’s Republican governor was ousted by a Democrat whose new attorney general opposed the passage of the law.
While the court made no pronouncement on its decision, as is usual in such cases, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts said it was not clear who was representing North Carolina in its pursuit of the case, and said that no conclusions should be drawn from the court’s decision not to hear it.
“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 said in a statement.
US history is littered with voting restrictions on minorities, even though the 1965 Voting Rights Act banned any such discrimination along racial lines.
Since Trump’s election last November, states such as Texas and Wisconsin have tried to adopt legislation similar to North Carolina’s, which they have defended as a way to battle voter fraud. Some of these have been permitted by judges and others amended, while some have been struck down by judges who ruled they were designed to discriminate against minorities.
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