Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wisconsin Voter ID Law Survives Supreme Court Challenge

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wisconsin Voter ID Law Survives Supreme Court Challenge

Article excerpt

With the 2016 presidential elections just around the corner, the United States Supreme Court on Monday announced that it would not examine the constitutionality of a state law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot.

The justices had been asked to hear a challenge to a 2011 voter photo ID law enacted in Wisconsin. The action clears the way for Wisconsin officials to begin asking for photo ID at the polls, but it is not clear if the statute will be enforced in the state's general election on April 7.

Supporters of the Wisconsin measure say it helps prevent voter fraud and fosters public confidence in the election process.

Opponents argue that requiring someone to show a drivers license or other photographic proof of identity is a substantial burden to would-be voters - particularly among minority and low-income citizens who may lack the required photo ID or the underlying documents necessary to obtain one.

A federal judge estimated that as many as 300,000 Wisconsin voters, or 9 percent of registered voters in the state, lack the requisite ID.

"This case raises issues of profound national importance," Washington appellate lawyer Lisa Blatt wrote in her brief on behalf of those challenging the Wisconsin law.

"Millions of registered voters, disproportionately African Americans and Latinos, lack a qualifying photo ID needed to vote under laws in Wisconsin and other states," Ms. Blatt said.

She said such voters face "substantial or insurmountable burdens to obtain a qualifying photo ID."

The Supreme Court justices offered no comment or explanation with their order rejecting the case.

The Wisconsin attorney general's office urged the high court to reject the challenge. The office argued that the US Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of voter ID laws in a 6-to-3 decision in a 2008 case called Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The decision upheld a photo ID law in Indiana.

Assistant Attorney General Clayton Kawski said in his brief that the Indiana and Wisconsin laws are similar, except that it is easier to obtain a free ID in Wisconsin.

Because an appeals court panel upheld the Wisconsin statute, Mr. Kawski urged the Supreme Court to bypass the Wisconsin case and allow the appeals court decision to stand.

He said there was no split among the federal appeals courts on the photo ID issue, and that the high court should allow similar cases to continue to percolate in the lower courts.

"By the 2016 elections, a circuit conflict may emerge warranting this court's review, or circuit consensus will continue, militating against review," Kawski wrote. "Now is not the time to take up these issues."

Currently, 31 states ask would-be voters to present some form of identification before being permitted to cast a ballot. Of those, seven states maintain a strict photo ID requirement. They are Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Wisconsin will become the eighth such state when the courts lift a hold placed on the statute while the underlying case was being considered. …

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