The Supreme Court Just Made It Harder for Native Americans to Vote in North Dakota

October 10, 2018, 1:03 PM UTC

The Supreme Court has been back in session for just over a week and its first rulings are rolling in.

Among them? A decision Tuesday in which the Supreme Court refused to intervene in a challenge to a North Dakota voter ID law.

The law requires that North Dakota residents provide identification that includes a residential street address in order to vote. But the state is home to thousands of Native Americans and others who do not have standard addresses, which the challengers argued would effectively disenfranchise them.

A federal district court in North Dakota agreed with them in April, blocking the Secretary of State from enforcing the new requirements and thereby allowing voters to cast ballots in the primaries. But last month, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the district court’s order on hold.

The challengers therefore submitted an urgent request to the Supreme Court asking the justices to toss out the law, but the Court denied it without explanation—with the exception of Justice Ginsburg, who wrote a dissent to which Justice Kagan joined. Newly-minted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not join in the decision.

In her dissent, Ginsburg highlighted that 70,000 North Dakota residents, which constitutes nearly 20% of the turnout “in a regular quadrennial election—lack a qualifying ID” under the the law’s provisions. Another 18,000 residents “lack supplemental documentation sufficient to permit them to vote without a qualifying ID.”

What’s more, Ginsburg noted that changing the rules ahead of November’s election could cause confusion amongst voters. “The risk of voter confusion appears severe here because the injunction against requiring residential-address identification was in force during the primary election and because the Secretary of State’s website announced for months the ID requirements as they existed under that injunction,” Ginsburg said.

“Reasonable voters may well assume that the IDs allowing them to vote in the primary election would remain valid in the general election.”

The state is one of the least densely populated in the country, meaning that a couple hundred votes could decide an election. And Native Americans disproportionately vote Democrat, which could be bad news for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s Democrat incumbent who is struggling to hold off her Republican opponent. Heitkamp, who decided to break from her state and vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation last week, won her last race by just 3,000 votes.