WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a brief, unsigned order reinstating provisions of a North Carolina voting law that bar same-day registration and counting votes cast in the wrong precinct. A federal appeals court had blocked the provisions, saying they disproportionately harmed black voters. In a dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said she would have sustained the appeals court’s determination that the two provisions “risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise the franchise.”
The case arose from a law enacted by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Legislature in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court decision that effectively eliminated a central provision of the federal Voting Rights Act, its Section 5.
The federal government and various groups and individuals sued, saying several restrictions in the state law violated the Constitution and what remained of the Voting Rights Act. A trial judge declined to block the law, but a divided three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Richmond, Virginia, ruled last week that the restrictions on same-day registration and counting out-of-precinct votes should be suspended.
The appeals court let stand parts of the law that imposed new voter ID requirements, cut off a week of early voting, kept polling places closed on the Saturday before the election and disallowed preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds in high schools. Ginsburg said all of those measures “likely would not have survived” scrutiny under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
In urging the Supreme Court to intervene, North Carolina officials said the appeals court’s order was “extremely burdensome” and “represents a massive and unprecedented last-minute change in the election practices which North Carolina implemented in the May 2014 primary and which North Carolina has been preparing to implement in the 2014 general election.”
Groups challenging the law urged the justices to let the appeals court’s ruling stand. The state law, they said, had “surgically eliminated the precise forms of registration and voting that had enabled significant expansion of African-Americans’ civic participation in North Carolina over the previous decade.”
The Supreme Court is likely to act soon on a separate application concerning a Wisconsin voter ID law.