The bedrock of our American democracy, the right to vote, was strengthened Monday — or at least got a reprieve from the jackhammers — when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to come to the defense of a North Carolina law baldly designed to make it harder for African-Americans to vote.
By refusing to accept the case, the Supreme Court left in place a federal appeals court ruling that largely guts the North Carolina law, saying it disenfranchised black voters with “almost surgical precision.”
But forgive us for not cheering. The battle to protect and expand the voting franchise to every qualified American citizens is far from won. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts made it clear Monday that the court refused to take the North Carolina case only for procedural reasons. Similar voting rights cases are sure to be taken up by the court, which now includes the conservative justice Neil Gorsuch, and nobody can confidently predict how it will rule.
Adding an ominous air to the uncertainty, President Donald Trump last week announced the creation of a commission to investigate voter fraud — a commission almost sure to call for redoubling efforts to restrict voting, on the pretext of curtailing voter fraud. Chairman of the commission is Vice President Mike Pence. Vice chairman of the commission is Kansas Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach. Both men have worked hard to restrict voting in their own states and across the nation, despite convincing studies that conclude large-scale voter fraud is almost unheard of.
In actuality, voter ID laws, rollbacks in early voting and the elimination of same-day voter registration — all trumpeted as guards against fraudulent voting — are tools used by Republican-dominated state legislatures to discourage voting by Democrats. African-Americans, who overwhelming vote Democratic, are particularly targeted.
On Monday, Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, declared that “an ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.” And the ACLU of North Carolina said the high court’s ruling “sends a strong message.”
But, with all respect to the ACLU, that’s awfully optimistic talk. Republicans, especially in the South, will continue to seek ways to discourage voting blocs aligned with Democrats from casting ballots.
In North Carolina, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, dismissing the justification there for a voter ID law, noted that the state could not point to a single person “who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.” There is, however, evidence of absentee voting fraud, and white voters are disproportionately more likely to be absentee voters.
Unsurprisingly, the North Carolina legislature did not attempt to reduce that kind of fraud.