The Supreme Court, with two Justices noting dissents, on Wednesday afternoon allowed North Carolina to bar voters from registering and casting their ballots on the same day, and to refuse to count votes that were cast in the wrong polling places. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. The majority did not explain its action.
The order gives the state time to file an appeal from lower-court rulings striking down those two provisions, which were part of a larger, sweeping change in voting rights in the state. If the Court grants review of the state’s appeal, the postponement will remain in effect until there is a decision.
Justice Ginsburg, writing for herself and Justice Sotomayor, argued that the two restrictions at issue as well as others in the broader reach of the new law probably would have been found illegal, if the Voting Rights Act of 1965 remained in full effect and North Carolina had had to ask permission from the federal government to make those changes. The Court last year limited the 1965 Act in a way that the dissenters said “effectively nullified” the law’s pre-clearance requirement.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the two provisions permitted by Wednesday’s Supreme Court order would risk a significant reduction in voting opportunities for black voters in North Carolina, in violation of a part of the Voting Rights Act still intact.
Other provisions in the new state law, not at issue in the state’s plea to the Supreme Court, required identification to vote, cut short early voting by a week, barred voting on the final Saturday before election day, ended pre-registration of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in high schools, and authorized any registered voter to challenge ballots cast early or on election day.
The Supreme Court’s action marked the second time it had been drawn into the legal controversy, now reaching across the country, over new cutbacks on voting rights. On September 29, the Court split five to four in permitting Ohio to cut back sharply on early voting rights in advance of election day.
This week the Court is also considering a dispute over early voting in Wisconsin. The filings in that case are still coming in.