The Supreme Court denied a request Wednesday from North Carolina to allow provisions of its controversial voting rights law to go back into effect.
In a 4-4 split, justices left undisturbed a lower court opinion that struck down the law.
The Supreme Court’s order means provisions of the law — concerning a tightening in voter ID requirements, cutbacks on early voting and the preregistration of 16-year-olds — will remain off the books for November’s election.
The court’s order is a major victory for challengers to the law, including civil rights groups and the Department of Justice, which argued that it had a disparate impact on minority voters. In July, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that provisions of the law targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
North Carolina was seeking to freeze the lower court opinion pending appeal. In court papers, lawyers for the state argued that the appellate decision would cause confusion “mere months” before a general election.
The court’s liberal wing — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer — opted not to stay the lower court ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Samuel Alito indicated they would grant the stay in part; Justice Clarence Thomas said he would grant the stay in its entirety.
The state’s lead lawyer, Paul Clement, said the appeals court’s decision was “extraordinary” and argued, for example, that the appeals court “prohibited North Carolina from enforcing a voter ID law that is actually more sensitive to disparate impact concerns than those in force in many of its sister states.”
But the groups and the Obama administration said the lower court opinion had been carefully crafted, and urged the Supreme Court to leave it undisturbed for now.
“Once an electoral law has been found to be racially discriminatory, and injunctive relief has been found to be necessary to remedy that discrimination, the normal rule is that the operation of the law must be suspended,” wrote acting Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn.