The Supreme Court is letting stand a lower court opinion from last summer that struck down North Carolina's voter ID law.
The law was challenged by civil rights groups and the Obama administration, which argued that the law's photo ID requirement had a disparate impact on minority voters.
The North Carolina General Assembly had urged the court to review a lower court decision that held the law targeted "African-Americans with almost surgical precision." The Supreme Court declined to weigh in, but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote separately to stress that the denial should not be read as an endorsement of the lower court's decision.
The case was complicated by the fact that after the election, North Carolina's new governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, moved to dismiss the appeal that was first filed when Republican Pat McCrory was governor, while lawyers for the General Assembly urged the court to move forward.
"Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in the court under North Carolina law, it is important to recall our frequent admonition that the denial of writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion on the merits," Roberts wrote in a statement.
It would have taken four justices to take up the case, but Roberts' separate statement reflects the fact that the court saw a procedural obstacle and will instead likely wait for another similar case to come to the court before giving any more guidance on the divisive issue of identification for voters at the polls.
Last summer, before the election, the justices signaled they were closely divided when they split 4-4 on a request to allow the provision of the law to go into effect for the election.
The Supreme Court's order meant provisions of the law -- concerning a tightening in voter ID requirements, cutbacks on early voting and the preregistration of 16-year-olds -- remained off the books for November's election.
"Today's announcement is good news for North Carolina voters," Cooper said in a statement. "We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder -- and the court found this law sought to discriminate against African-American voters with 'surgical precision.' I will continue to work to protect the right of every legal, registered North Carolinian to participate in our democratic process."
The key here is Chief Justice Roberts saying that SCOTUS will pass on the case because there's too many thorny procedural issues here, which means the Roberts Court does want to tackle Voter ID laws and voter suppression, just not with North Carolina's version of the law. My guess is we'll see the Texas version be the one that Roberts and Co. decide to take up.
It's a win for NC voters certainly, but that win may be short-lived if the Roberts Court looks to make a national precedent for voting before November 2018.