In a brief order offering no explanation for the Court’s decision, the Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that North Carolina’s comprehensive voter suppression law will not take effect in the 2016 election. A federal appeals court previously struck down several key provisions of the law, explaining that the law was designed for the very purpose of making it harder for African-Americans to cast a ballot.
North Carolina hired Paul Clement, a former United States Solicitor General who frequently argues cases that are a high priority for the Republican Party and movement conservatives, to ask the Supreme Court to reinstate this law for the 2016 election. Wednesday’s order denies Clement’s request.
So that’s the good news for voting rights. The bad news is that all four of the Court’s Republican-appointees voted to reinstate the lion’s share of the law. These four justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, all voted to neuter a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, and to reject an early challenge to voter ID, a common method of voter suppression that was included in the North Carolina law.
Nevertheless, because the facts of this particular case are especially stark — federal appeals courts do not typically accuse state lawmakers of actively targeting black voters for disenfranchisement — many smart court-watchers expected Roberts and Kennedy to vote with their more liberal colleagues in this case. The fact that they did not suggests that, but for the recent death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, North Carolina’s voter suppression law would now be largely reinstated.
The close vote in this case also raises the stakes for the upcoming election, as the next president is likely to appoint the deciding vote who will determine if this voter suppression law is ultimately struck down for good.