North Carolinians in November will vote in 28 state legislative districts that a panel of federal judges found were illegally drawn to reduce the overall influence of African-American voters. The illegal districts will be in place for a third election because the three judges decided in their Aug. 11 ruling that there was not enough time to fix the mess before voting starts.
But at least this election will now be free of two other discriminatory measures, one that reduced early voting by a week and another that required voters to present a photo ID from a narrow list of acceptable versions.
Those obstacles fell after the U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 this week on a request to reimpose them pending the outcome of an appeal. Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republican leaders are seeking to overturn a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that restored a full 17 days of early voting and struck down the photo ID requirement.
It is cause for relief, even celebration that the disgraceful effort to suppress minority votes has failed for now. But it also deeply discouraging to see how the governor and the four conservative justices acted in this matter.
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The discouragement starts with McCrory. He waited more than two weeks to tell the Supreme Court that the Fourth Circuit ruling would disrupt voting in North Carolina to an extent that the court should grant an emergency stay. If the stay had been granted, many voters would have been confused about when they could vote and what they needed to vote.
The discouragement extends to the Supreme Court justices who supported the stay despite the Fourth Circuit panel’s unanimous opinion. Though Clarence Thomas’ vote to grant the stay was utterly predictable, it is still dismaying 25 years into his tenure to see the court’s lone black justice vote to reinstate a law that the lower court described as discriminating against African-Americans with “almost surgical precision.”
And then there is Chief Justice John Roberts. Perhaps he was sincere when he voted in Shelby County v. Holder to gut the Voting Rights Act because he thought the era of racial bias in state voting laws had passed. But when he saw states rapidly impose restrictive voting laws after the Voting Rights Act was weakened, he might have seen in the North Carolina case a chance to check the forces of discrimination he clearly underestimated. Instead, he voted to reinstate one of the most restrictive voting laws adopted in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder.
For now, the forces of suppression have been pushed back. In the interim, it is urgent that African-Americans turn out in force this election to permanently stop those who would impede their right to vote.