The Supreme Court is leaving in place a ruling that struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law as unconstitutional because it was intended to suppress the votes of African Americans.
Chief Justice John Roberts issued an unusual statement Monday saying the high court’s decision not to wade into the case should not be taken as an indication of the justices’ views on the broader issues at stake. He suggested the high court’s decision was due to confusion over the newly-elected Democratic governor and attorney general’s efforts to have the state back out of the litigation and accept the 4th Circuit’s decision last year voiding the controversial measure.
“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 ‘[t]he denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case,'” Roberts wrote.
No justice publicly dissented from the court’s decision not to take the case or indicated whether he or she agreed with Roberts’ explanation of why the court was punting on the issue.
North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the measure in 2013, requiring the presentation of photo ID at the polls, shortening the early-voting period, and ending the practice of same-day registration.
In April 2016, a district court judge appointed by President George W. Bush issued a nearly-500-page ruling turning down a challenge to the law. However, a three-judge panel of Democratic appointees on the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision last July and held that the law was passed with the intent of discriminating on the basis of race.
Then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, asked the Supreme Court to step in on an emergency basis. However, the law remained blocked through last fall’s election because the justices deadlocked, 4-4, on the issue. It was one of several cases likely affected by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia early last year.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who won election last November sought to withdraw the state’s appeal, as did Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein. However, Republican leaders in the state legislature asked the Supreme Court to hear the case despite Cooper and Stein’s objections.