Supreme Court Upholds Voter ID Law
The Supreme Court today upheld Indiana’s law requiring voters to show picture ID.
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can require voters to produce photo identification without violating their constitutional rights, validating Republican-inspired voter ID laws.
In a splintered 6-3 ruling, the court upheld Indiana’s strict photo ID requirement, which Democrats and civil rights groups said would deter poor, older and minority voters from casting ballots. Its backers said it was needed to prevent fraud.
It was the most important voting rights case since the Bush v. Gore dispute that sealed the 2000 election for George W. Bush. But the voter ID ruling lacked the conservative-liberal split that marked the 2000 case.
The law “is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting ‘the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,'” Justice John Paul Stevens said in an opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. Stevens was a dissenter in Bush v. Gore in 2000. Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also agreed with the outcome, but wrote separately. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, just as they did in 2000.
More than 20 states require some form of identification at the polls. Courts have upheld voter ID laws in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, but struck down Missouri’s. Monday’s decision comes a week before Indiana’s presidential primary.
Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said he hadn’t reviewed the decision, but he was “extremely disappointed” by it. Falk has said voter ID laws inhibit voting, and a person’s right to vote “is the most important right.” The ACLU brought the case on behalf of Indiana voters.
This seems like a no-brainer, really. Yes, voting is a fundamental right. No, it’s not absolute. Most states require advanced registration, proof of address, and make other restrictions to reasonably ensure that only eligible people vote and that no one can vote more than once.
Photo identification is necessary to do everything from driving to cashing a check to getting a job. It’s simply not an onerous requirement to exercise the franchise.
It is, however, problematic for those who think cameras steal the soul. And vampires. (Or is that mirrors?)
Lyle Denniston has a thorough discussion of the various opinions in the case. He observes,
The voter ID ruling may turn out to be a significant victory for Republicans at election time, since the requirement for proof of identification is likely to fall most heavily on voters long assumed to be identified with the Democrats — particularly, minority and poor voters. The GOP for years has been actively pursuing a campaign against what it calls “voter fraud,” and the Court’s ruling Monday appears to validate that effort, at least in part. The main opinion said states have a valid interest in preventing voting by those not entitled to do so, even if there is no specific proof of that kind of fraud in the state.
While the Court’s main opinion said it was “fair to infer that partisan considerations may have played a significant role” in enacting the photo ID law, it went on to say that that law was neutral in its application and was adequately supported by the justifications the state had offered.
Presumably, the poor are less likely to have cars and, therefore, drivers’ licenses. One would think, though, that they’d need photo ID to get on the payroll at work. Or, as the case might be, to draw welfare benefits.
James Oliphant points out that,
Stevens noted … the failure of opponents to demonstrate the burden that would be placed on elderly and minority groups. The record in the case was almost devoid of any pure numbers indicating the percentage of voters in Indiana who lacked an ID that would allow them to vote, a point underscored at oral argument.
Commenters nonetheless believe we’re on the brink of a plutocracy, where the poor are disenfranchised and Republican rule is permanent.
Rick Hasen, who filed an amicus brief for the losing side, offers detailed thoughts as well, mostly on the finer points of judicial reasoning rather than on policy.