By Ellen McGirt
May 15, 2017

This morning brought some good news from the highest court in the land. Here’s the headline from The New York Times: Strict North Carolina Voter ID Law Thwarted After Supreme Court Rejects Case.

The law, which was enacted by the state’s Republican-led legislature in 2013, added several restrictive measures that limited early voting, changed identification requirements, and ended same-day voter registration.

But in 2016, federal court in Richmond found struck down many aspects of the law, and ruled it an unconstitutional attempt to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” and not to prevent voter fraud. Today’s SCOTUS announcement leaves that decision in place.

The Washington Post broke down the appeals court decision last July:

In particular, the court found that North Carolina lawmakers requested data on racial differences in voting behaviors in the state. “This data showed that African Americans disproportionately lacked the most common kind of photo ID, those issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV),” the judges wrote.

So the legislators made it so that the only acceptable forms of voter identification were the ones disproportionately used by white people. “With race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans,” the judges wrote. “The bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.”

The data also showed that black voters were more likely to make use of early voting — particularly the first seven days out of North Carolina’s 17-day voting period. So lawmakers eliminated these seven days of voting. “After receipt of this racial data, the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from seventeen to ten days,” the court found.

The law may be thwarted for now, but the impulse behind it is not. Explains The Atlantics Vann R. Newkirk:

The next battle may not originate in the state itself. The North Carolina voter-ID law is similar to a Texas law that has also had a long life in courts, and has been found to have discriminatory effect by the Fifth Circuit. The question of the discriminatory intent of the law, although recently confirmed by a district court, is likely to reappear before the Fifth Circuit and then the Supreme Court, and there the Court’s considerations could have wide implications for implementation of voter ID, including North Carolina’s own law.

Part of what voting rights advocates fear is that opponents, failing to find sympathetic jurists, will just get better at hiding the discriminatory intent behind their legal strategy. But here’s my thought of the day: It’s the shield of moral certainty held by many an average voter – that some people are more deserving to be part of the democratic process than others – will be the hardest to pierce.

Stay tuned.

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