U.S. Supreme Court declines to immediately hear N.C. voting law case

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to immediately hear an appeal in a case challenging the state’s 2013 voting law, where the lower appeals court ruled that the state’s attempt to end same day registration and out of precinct voting likely violated the Voting Rights Act.  That denial means that those issues, along with other challenged elements of the 2013 law that make voting harder, will all be considered together in July 2015 when the case goes to trial in federal district court in Winston-Salem, N.C.  Those other elements include the cut to early voting and the photo ID requirement, among others.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice had asked the Supreme Court not to grant certiorari in the case at this stage, and to instead allow the issues to be heard and decided together in district court this summer.
The denial of certiorari by the Supreme Court follows a ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which voted 2-1 in October 2014 to grant a preliminary injunction upholding North Carolina voters’ access to same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting until the case could be heard in district court. In October, the Supreme Court stayed the injunction, citing concerns about proximity to the November 2014 general election, and as a result same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were not available to voters during that election. North Carolina’s next elections are scheduled to take place in fall 2015, for municipal offices.
Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and others have challenged provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. The groups charge that implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.
North Carolinians use early voting in vast numbers. During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half of all votes cast. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections. Eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting also imposes hardship on voters.
In recent elections, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information, and vote in one trip to an early voting site. In both 2008 and 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. African-Americans disproportionately relied on same-day registration in both elections. The new law eliminates this opportunity to register, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.
The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.