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A divided Supreme Court weighed in today on North Carolina's new voting restrictions. It refused to reinstate them. Last month a federal appeals court struck down the state's new restrictions, saying that they were intended to make it harder for African-Americans to vote. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The restrictions were enacted in 2013 shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. That provision had until then required areas with a history of discrimination in voting to pre-clear with the Justice Department or the federal courts any changes in voting laws. Once freed from that obligation, North Carolina, as well as other states, began enacting laws that minorities claimed were deliberately aimed at making it harder for them to vote.
In the Tar Heel State, the restrictions ranged from strict requirements for photo IDs at the polls to the partial elimination of early voting and elimination of same-day registration. In July a federal appeals court threw out those restrictions as intentionally discriminatory. The court noted that the GOP-controlled legislature had drafted the law after receiving data showing that African-Americans would be the most disadvantaged by the new rules.
Republican Governor Pat McCrory then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to restore the law for the coming election in November. Late today the Supreme Court refused to do that, with the justices split for the most part 4 to 4 and the four most conservative justices falling one vote shy of the five votes it takes to block a lower court decision.
The Supreme Court has been operating without a full complement of nine justices since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February and the refusal of the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to consider President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland to replace Scalia. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.