The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear, for purely procedural reasons, the state of North Carolina’s appeal of a decision striking down its Voter ID law. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote (pdf) that the decision had nothing to do with the merits of the case but instead “the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this Court.”
In July 2016, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state acted with discriminatory intent – “target[ing] African-Americans with almost surgical precision – when it designed the photo identification restrictions and several other limitations on voting. Along with Voter ID, the North Carolina assembly reduced the days for early voting, eliminated same-day voter registration, ended out-of-precinct voting and eliminated the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds when obtaining their driver’s licenses.
Last year, the state of North Carolina, its then-governor, its board of elections and members of that board in their official capacities petitioned for review of the Fourth Circuit’s decision. In January, Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, took office. Stein moved to dismiss the state’s prior petition for review, then amended it several weeks later to add additional petitioners. The Republican-controlled Assembly objected to Stein’s motion, arguing that state law does not authorize him to dismiss the petition, and retained private counsel to defend the state’s law. The House Speaker and President Pro Tem of the Senate separately filed a conditional motion to intervene, asking to have the Assembly added as a petitioner in case the state’s initial petition is indeed withdrawn. Some of the original plaintiffs objected to that filing, arguing that those legislative officials lacked standing under state law.
Essentially, the state must work out all those issues before the Supreme Court would consider the appeal.
Optically, the denial of certiorari bolsters plaintiffs in the Texas Voter ID case. However, because that denial had nothing to do with the merits of the North Carolina case, the practical impact on the Texas case is likely negligible. It is also worth mentioning that any future Texas petition would lack the procedural uncertainty of the North Carolina petition. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s initial petition for review in January. At the time, Roberts indicated the state could pursue an appeal “after entry of final judgment.” Last month, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled “a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage” of the state’s Voter ID law, reaffirming her previous ruling.