Supreme Court blocks North Carolina voter ID law

The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to reinstate a 2013 North Carolina law that required voters to show photo identification at the polls.
 
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In a 4-4 split decision, the court said it would not hear a challenge to a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down parts of the law. 
 
Along with new voter identification requirements, the Circuit Court also ruled against a provision in the law that cut the number of early-voting days to 10.
 
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito would have allowed North Carolina to proceed with most of the changes blocked by the 4th Circuit, the Supreme Court said in an order released Wednesday afternoon. Justice Clarence Thomas would have allowed the state to implement all the provisions blocked by the lower court.
 
The four justices in the court’s liberal wing stood with the 4th Circuit. In the case of a four-four split, the lower court’s ruling is allowed to stand.

The decision — hailed as a win for voting-rights advocates who say the 2013 law disproportionately impacted minority, poor and elderly voters — will allow for 17 days of early voting. Voters will not be required to show identification when they head to the polls.

In June, the 4th Circuit overturned a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling upholding the law. In a striking opinion, the three-judge panel sided with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the federal Department of Justice and other groups that had sued North Carolina over its new law, saying the law would discriminate against minorities.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote in the June opinion.

The Justice Department filed a brief last week urging the Court to uphold the Circuit Court’s opinion. 

The opinion portends a difficult fight ahead, both for proponents and opponents of stricter voter ID legislation. 

Rick Hasen, a voting rights advocate and law professor at the University of California Irvine, said the fact that Roberts and Kennedy would vote to block the 4th Circuit’s decision shows they remain firmly in the voter ID camp.

Several other cases challenging state voter ID laws are working their way through various circuit courts. Challenges to laws in Texas and Wisconsin are also likely to end up before the high court, which could remain deadlocked until a successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia is confirmed.

- Updated at 4:08 p.m.