Victory for foes of strict voter ID laws may be temporary

WASHINGTON — Opponents of strict voter ID laws won a closely watched, but perhaps temporary, victory Monday, as the Supreme Court declined to revive a 4-year-old North Carolina measure.

Rejecting an unusual plea from the North Carolina General Assembly, the court said it would not hear the North Carolina case in the term that will start in October.

It leaves intact an appellate court ruling striking down the North Carolina law, though it also leaves unsettled some crucial issues that are likely to come back in another case and on another day.

“Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this court under North Carolina law, it is important to recall our frequent admonition that ‘the denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case,’” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote.

Newly reinforced by rookie Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court’s five-member conservative majority is seen by some as potentially sympathetic to state voting-related laws passed in recent years by Republican-controlled legislatures.

Perhaps hinting at his own sympathies, Roberts noted Monday that a trial judge who had upheld the law did so in “a nearly 500-page opinion.”

For now, the decision is a victory for opponents of the North Carolina law. More broadly, the earlier decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the law remains as precedent binding on Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, while its reasoning might continue to influence other courts, as well.

“An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.

The chapter was, at the very least, an unusual one, as the Republican-controlled General Assembly had tried to revive an appeal dropped by the two original combatants.

The Supreme Court considered the North Carolina case at its private conference last Thursday. At least four of the court’s nine justices must agree for a case to be added to the oral argument docket.

As is customary, the court did not reveal any vote details from the conference.

The fizzling out announced Monday marked an anti-climactic end to what had once appeared as political high drama. At its peak, the case promised a collision course between vigorously warring parties.

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