North Carolina is an interesting place. It has remained reliably red in recent presidential elections, save for 2008, and for that reason it is generally lumped in with other "red" states. But North Carolina is more purple than red, and at the same time voters chose Donald Trump as the recipient of the state's electoral votes, they narrowly elected a Democrat, Roy Cooper, as their new governor.
Cooper has had a bit of an uphill battle so far against a legislature dominated by Republicans who have taken outrageous steps to limit his power as much as possible. But on Tuesday, he, along with new Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein, made an important move to right one of the worst excesses of his predecessor's time in office. They are withdrawing from a pending case before the U.S. Supreme Court about the state's discriminatory voter ID law.
Cooper explained his decision in a press release, saying,
"We need to make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote, not harder, and I will not continue to waste time and money appealing this unconstitutional law. It’s time for North Carolina to stop fighting for this unfair, unconstitutional law and work instead to improve equal access for voters."
Stein also announced the move, on Twitter.
North Carolina's voter ID law was passed in 2013. In addition to containing one of the country's strictest identification requirements, it cut a week from early voting, eliminated same-day voter registration, straight ticket voting, and halted a program that allowed high school students to pre-register to vote before they turn 18.
The NAACP sued over the law, which they argued targeted minorities, and a panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with them last July, blocking its implementation. Cooper, who was at the time the North Carolina attorney general, refused to pursue the case further, but Republican governor Pat McCrory bypassed him and requested a stay of the court's ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. That tribunal deadlocked 4-4 and the lower court decision was left in place.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to review the case on March 3, and unfortunately for North Carolina voters the issue may not be completely dead yet. The state elections board could hire their own counsel to defend the law. Cooper has been engaged in a fight with the legislature after they blocked his ability to appoint members to the board, as has previously been the right of a new governor. So it's not out of the question that the current Republican controlled board could decide to move forward with the case.
North Carolina Republicans don't have a very good record when it comes to winning in court in recent years, wasting time, resources, and taxpayer dollars. Cooper called them out for it following last summer's ruling.
"The courts keep striking down these laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor," Cooper said. "When are they going to learn that you just can’t run roughshod over the Constitution? That you have to pass laws that are within the framework of the state and federal constitutions? We need to start doing that in North Carolina."
The GOP is all about getting and holding power, and these numerous voter suppression laws around the country are designed to maintain that power by attempting to restrict voting among members of traditionally Democratic constituencies, in particular people of color. In North Carolina, Republicans were particularly brazen and they got caught. But this fight is much closer to the first round than to the last.
Signs look good for the elimination of the North Carolina law, but there are over 30 states with some sort of voter ID law on the books. Some of them may wind up coming before the Supreme Court after a fifth, Trump-appointed justice has been seated. Yet another reason to demand Senate Democrats remain united and block any Trump appointees from being given the SCOTUS seat that should be occupied by Merrick Garland.