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Supreme Court’s Roberts: ‘Uncertainty’ sinks voter ID appeal

FILE - In this April 7, 2017 file photo, visitors arrive at the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court on Monday, May 15, 2017, rejected an appeal to reinstate North Carolina's voter identification law that a lower court said targeted African-Americans "with almost surgical precision." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Supreme Court shut the door Monday on North Carolina Republicans’ effort to revive a state law that mandated voter identification and scaled back early voting, provisions that a lower court said improperly targeted minority voters.

The justices left in place last summer’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the law’s photo ID requirement to vote in person, which the court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

The measure, approved in 2013 by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature, also reduced the number of early voting days from 17 to 10 and prohibited same-day registration during the early voting period. Supporters said the measure was necessary to crack down on voter fraud, but opponents said the changes discourage voting by black and Hispanic residents, who use early voting or same-day registration more than white voters and are more likely to lack photo ID.

The North Carolina dispute is similar to a court fight over Texas’ voter ID law, which also was struck down as racially discriminatory. The Texas case is making its way through the lower courts and could be the high court’s next opportunity to weigh in.

Chief Justice John Roberts cautioned Monday in the two-page order that the rejection of the appeal is not a comment on the court’s view about the substance of the law. Thirty-two states already have some kind of voter ID law in force, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

That word of caution seemed to hearten North Carolina’s Republican leaders, who pledged to take another crack at passing a voter ID requirement.

State House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement that “Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the commonsense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote.”

Roberts wrote the political situation created uncertainty over who is authorized to seek review of the lower court ruling. The appeal was first filed when Republican Pat McCrory was governor; Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein then tried to withdraw it.

The high court decision drew praise from Democrats and plaintiffs in the case.

Cooper said in a statement that Monday’s “announcement is good news for North Carolina voters. We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder.”

The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said it’s time for Republicans to stop proposing new restrictions.

“We urge the General Assembly to finally accept that racially discriminatory laws have no place in our democracy, and certainly not when it comes to the sacred right to vote,” Barber said.

Republicans in North Carolina and Texas moved to enact new voting measures after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act that had required them to get advance approval before changing laws dealing with elections. Voters, civil rights groups and the Obama administration quickly filed lawsuits challenging the new laws.

Shortly before President Donald Trump took office in January, the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to reject the North Carolina appeal.

When the law passed in July 2013, North Carolina Republicans said that requiring voter ID will increase the integrity of elections. But the 4th U.S. Circuit said last July that the state provided no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address.

The Richmond, Virginia-based court said the law was enacted with intentional bias against black voters. The law had been amended in 2015 to include a method for people unable to get a photo ID to still vote.

Following the appellate ruling, the state asked the high court to allow the challenged provisions to remain in effect in November’s election. The justices rejected the request by virtue of a 4-4 tie on most of the challenged provisions, with the four more conservative justices supporting the state’s bid.

The State Board of Elections reported last month that about 500 ineligible voters cast ballots out of the 4.8 million recorded in North Carolina during the November election. Most of the number involved felons unable to vote because they had not completed their sentences.

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Sherman reported from Washington.

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