By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a bid by North Carolina to reinstate for November’s elections several voting restrictions, including a requirement that people show identification at the polls.
The eight-justice court, divided in most part 4-4, rejected a request made by Republican Governor Pat McCrory after an appeals court ruled last month that the 2013 law discriminates against minority voters. Five votes are needed for an emergency request to be granted.
"We’re thrilled. Elections in North Carolina this fall are going to be conducted under a fair and nondiscriminatory election law scheme," said Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the civil rights groups that challenged the law.
The U.S. Justice Department, which has also been involved in fighting the law, did not immediately comment on the decision.
McCrory said in a statement that the state "has been denied basic voting rights already granted to more than 30 other states to protect the integrity of one person, one vote through a common-sense voter ID law."
The brief order noted that three of the court's conservatives, including Chief Justice John Roberts, would have allowed the voter identification provision and limits on early voting to be in effect for the election. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed on that point, but was the only justice to say he would have also allowed a requirement blocking pre-registration of 16-year-olds to stay in place.
McCrory’s lawyers said the status quo should be maintained so close to the election, citing court precedent in their favor.
The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on July 29 that the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters. The same court refused to put its decision on hold for the Nov. 8 election.
Critics say such laws, passed in Republican-governed states, make voting harder for minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats. Backers say the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud.
The court is currently short one justice following the death of conservative Antonin Scalia in February, which likely deprived the conservative justices of the fifth vote they needed to grant the request.
The high court could yet be asked to weigh in on other voting restrictions ahead of the election, with several cases pending in lower courts.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)