On Monday, the Supreme Court dealt a death blow to North Carolina’s notorious voter suppression law, refusing to review a lower court’s decision to block the measure for “target[ing] African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Republicans in the General Assembly, however, responded immediately with plans to introduce a new voter ID bill that mirrors the old, unlawful one. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who opposes voter ID laws, estimates that GOP legislators will pass the bill within ten days. Due to a gerrymander that has been found to be unconstitutionally racist, Republicans dominate the state legislature and will likely override Cooper’s inevitable veto.
Even if legislators do pass another voter ID bill, it’s unclear whether their efforts will pass muster in the federal judiciary. Last time around, Republicans allowed IDs most commonly held by white voters, like passports and driver’s licenses, while expressly excluding IDs more commonly held by black voters, such as government employee IDs and public assistance IDs. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited these targeted exclusions as confirmation that the legislature had intended to disenfranchise minorities. At a bare minimum, the new bill would probably have to allow a broader range of IDs to avoid the impression that it, too, was designed to suppress minority votes.
But the bill might not be saved by such tinkering. In its last ruling, the 4th Circuit evinced acute skepticism that voter ID requirements were necessary to preserve the integrity of North Carolina’s elections. After all, the state was unable to produce any actual instances of voter fraud to show the law was necessary, instead relying upon spurious claims and feverish fear mongering to defend their bill. The courts may find that the new law is similarly unsupported by evidence and therefore cannot justify the burden it imposes on the constitutionally protected right to vote.
It’ll be interesting to see whether North Carolina Republicans comply with any potential future rulings halting their assault on voting rights. After the 4th Circuit struck down their previous voter suppression law, Republicans had their allies on the state Board of Elections implement parts of it anyway. When Cooper was poised to appoint a Democratic majority to the board, the GOP added more Republicans to cancel out their votes. When a court struck down that effort, Republican legislators simply passed it again with minor tweaks. And when the GOP realized that Cooper had the authority to replace three retiring Republican judges on the state Court of Appeals, it shrunk the court by exactly three seats.
Legislative Republicans in the state, in short, seem to enjoy disregarding court rulings and disrespecting the rule of law. Although they can’t enfeeble the federal judiciary itself, they can attempt to evade its judgments and sow confusion about the state of the law—as Texas did, illegally, following the invalidation of its own voter ID bill. For the North Carolina GOP, Monday’s decision was a mere setback. Its broader offensive against the right to vote is certain to continue apace.