Court Monitor

Voter Photo ID Upheld!

Six years ago, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld by a 6-3 majority a voter photo ID law that had been challenged in Indiana. Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008). Liberals were furious with their own local Democrats for appealing that case all the way to the Supreme Court, which resulted in a strong conservative precedent that applies nationwide. Since then, any state has had the power to pass a voter photo ID law similar to what was upheld for Indiana.

Many states have voter ID laws, but few are as strong as Indiana's. There are now 32 states which require the presentation of some kind of identification prior to voting, but most of these states do not require photo ID. An additional state, North Carolina, has a voter photo ID requirement that will not go into effect before 2016. Among the 32 states having some kind of identification requirement, 8 of them have photo identification requirements. In addition to Indiana, these states are Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, and Kansas.

On September 12, 2014, Wisconsin became the 9th state to require photo ID in order to vote. A unanimous panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled within hours of oral argument in the case, by reinstating the 2011 law after a federal trial court had blocked it from going into effect. Frank v. Walker, Nos. 14-2058 and 14-2059 (7th Cir. Sept. 12, 2014). This enables voter photo ID to be required for the 2014 fall elections.

The Court observed that the Wisconsin voter photo ID law "is materially identical to Indiana's photo ID statute" that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court six years ago. The three-judge panel then rejected the argument that a voter photo ID requirement would have an unfair, disproportionate effect on certain groups, such as minorities. The Seventh Circuit observed that Wisconsin has made the procedures "easier for persons who have difficulty affording any fees to obtain the birth certificates or other documentation needed under the law, or to have the need for documentation waived." The Court ruled that Wisconsin can implement its law immediately, without further delay.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker quickly applauded the decision. "Voter ID is a common sense reform that protects the integrity of our voting process. Today's ruling makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat."

With photo identification required today for so many basic activities, it seems silly that there would be any doubt about whether it can be required for voting, for which integrity is of paramount importance. During the oral argument before the all-Republican-appointed panel, the Wisconsin Attorney General pointed out that he had to show photo identification in order to be allowed to enter the courthouse. Isn't voting in an election is just as important an activity as entering a government building? The Court unanimously agreed with Wisconsin, just in time for the fall elections.


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