On Wednesday, the Supreme Court effectively blocked North Carolina’s race-based voting restrictions from taking effect during the 2016 election. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in July that several measures pushed through by the state’s Republican legislature were motivated by discriminatory intent and thus illegal, prohibiting them from taking effect. North Carolina had asked the Supreme Court to stay the 4th Circuit’s injunction, but the justices deadlocked 4-4. That tie affirms the injunction, meaning the state cannot legally enforce its voting restrictions this election season.
North Carolina passed its omnibus voting bill shortly after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Freed from federal oversight, the Republican-dominated legislature requested a racial breakdown of voting data—then began eliminating those voting methods preferred by black voters. As the 4th Circuit explained, the resulting restrictions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” intentionally burdening their right to vote on account of their race. “Indeed,” the court wrote, “neither this legislature—nor, as far as we can tell, any other legislature in the Country—has ever done so much, so fast, to restrict access to the franchise.”
If permitted to take effect, the North Carolina law would have created stringent requirements for valid voter ID, eliminating IDs preferred by black voters; rolled back early voting and killed same-day registration, which is disproportionately used by black voters; eliminated preregistration for teenagers, also used disproportionately by black voters; and eliminated out-of-precinct voting for individuals who accidentally go to the wrong precinct in the right county. North Carolina argued that all of these restrictions were necessary to “combat voter fraud and promote public confidence in the electoral system.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, would have permitted every provision of the law to take effect except for the elimination of preregistration. Justice Clarence Thomas would have allowed the entire law to take effect. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan agreed with the 4th Circuit’s decision to block all provisions of the law in time for election season.
About 22 percent of North Carolina’s population is black. There is no evidence that voter fraud occurs in North Carolina.