by Rachel Clay, Southeast Regional Coordinator
On Monday, April 15, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear North Carolina’s appeal of a federal court of appeals ruling which struck down parts of a restrictive voting law in the state. After years of battling in the courts, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last July found that the state legislature explicitly set out to discover the kind of voting methods minority voters use most often, like early voting on Sundays, and roll back or eliminate them, targeting African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
While the ruling struck down a number of restrictive voting laws, one of the most notable is the elimination of the voter ID requirement. The significance of a victory like this, in North Carolina, a state deeply embedded in history as a battleground for civil and voting rights, should not be lost. In 2013, the Supreme Court nullified parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, removing existing preclearance requirements and causing the VRA to be all but unenforceable. North Carolina was covered under preclearance prior to this decision, and preclearance served to protect the rights of African American and minority voters.
North Carolina become the first state after the 2013 decision to enact a voter suppression law free of the oversight of preclearance. In the month following the decision, the state Senate transformed Bill 589, a 16-page bill about voter ID laws, to a 56-page bill that would be the worst voter suppression bill in North Carolina history, and arguably the country. The bill proposed strict voter ID requirements, a reduction in early voting days, the elimination of same day registration, the elimination of preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and a ban on counting some votes cast in the wrong precinct. These restrictions would have particularly impacted student voters and young voters by eliminating opportunities they take advantage of to cast a ballot and by excluding student IDs on the list of acceptable voter IDs.
While the Supreme Court contends the decision to not review the case comes from procedural issues, proponents of voting rights in North Carolina can still celebrate this decision as a victory in a long battle against voter suppression in the state. This decision brings an end to a long and drawn out battle over one of the most extreme voter suppression measures adopted in our country’s recent history, and in a state that often helps set precedent on civil liberties nationwide. As struggles continue in the state and country over racial and partisan gerrymandering, and other violations of voters’ rights, a victory such as this holds promise for our state and our country’s civil rights.