The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to review portions of a controversial North Carolina GOP-backed election law that critics claim was designed to limit participation by Black voters.
North Carolina is one of several Republican-led states to enact a series of voting restrictions including photo identification requirements and reducing the number of days set aside for early voting, same-day voter registration, and prohibitions on out-of-precinct voting under the guise of preventing voter fraud.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit last fall blocked North Carolina’s provisions, eliminating same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting, ruling that those two provisions posed a significant risk of reducing the voting opportunities for Black voters in the state.
But in October the Supreme Court intervened and blocked the federal appeals court decision, letting those provisions take effect in time for the 2014 midterm elections, while a trial on the constitutionality of the restrictions is set for July.
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North Carolina set a record for voter turnout during the 2014 midterm election thanks in part to a hotly contested Senate race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagen and Republican Tea Party ideologue Thom Tillis.
Tillis won the Senate seat, and critics of the voting restrictions point to Hagan’s loss in the face of that record turnout as proof the restrictions were designed to disenfranchise Democratic, and especially Black, voters.
Nine in ten Black voters cast their ballots for Democrats in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
The North Carolina law includes other restrictions on voting, such as requiring photo identification to vote, cutbacks to early voting by a week, no voting allowed on the final Saturday before election day, and an end to pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds in high schools.
The North Carolina law also allows any registered voter to challenge ballots cast early or on Election Day.
The restrictions on same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting are the only provisions subject to legal challenge at this time.
The effect of Monday’s ruling means that for now the Fourth Circuit’s decision blocking those provisions goes back into effect while the lower court considers the constitutionality of those provisions. A ruling in that trial is expected before the next statewide election, which will be the presidential primary in early 2016.