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.

FILED UNDER: General, Law and the Courts, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    This ruling makes a dangerous distinction between those who vote at the polls, who will now need a state photo identification, and those who vote absentee, who will not.




    0



    0
  2. Michael says:

    Does the state of Indiana offer a free way to obtain a valid photo ID? If not, then they are by extension requiring you to pay in order to vote.




    0



    0
  3. Mithras says:

    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.

    Welfare? Oh, snap! You’ve earned your right-wing street cred for the nonce, Joyner.

    Meanwhile, back in realityland, an I-9 does not require a photo identification, but instead such things as a voter identification card (how ironic!) along with a social security card (wait, is that welfare?) or birth certificate suffice.

    Also, the urban poor are employed disproportionately in jobs which are not, strictly speaking, in compliance with all the tax laws. While the underground economy (I mean getting paid under the table for washing dishes, not just selling crack) necessitates such unfortunate behavior, it’s no reason to deny people the vote.

    Also, the elderly (whether poor and urban or not) who are retired and don’t drive have no reason for any of the foregoing.

    And speaking of a “case … almost devoid of any pure numbers”, I believe this best describes the rationale behind these laws in the first place, the number of instances of people posing as others in order to commit vote fraud.




    0



    0
  4. SoloD says:

    This scheme was pressed by Republicans because they believe that it will depress Democratic turnout. (There has not been a verified false in-person voter case in Indiana, nor does the decision cite to any.) The fact that the Supreme Court does not find it un-constitutional should not in any way obscure this important fact.

    However, the silver lining for Democrats (if they chose to push it) would be to make a strong push to do away with the need for advanced voter registration and encourage same-day registration like they have in Minnesota.

    The strongest argument against same-day registration is the possibility for fraud, however a state issued ID would eliminate this worry.

    (And for you libertarians out there, this is certainly a step closer to a national ID card.)




    0



    0
  5. Mr. Denniston says:

    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.

    Indiana Requires ID to Vote — Minorities, Poor Hit Hardest reads like a NY Times headline.

    Mr. Denniston forget the dead, the four-legged, and the utterly non-existent Democrat voters in his list, which is why the issue came up in the first place. And before anybody responds that I’m being ridiculous, all of these categories of Democrat voters have been featured here in St. Louis County in the last few elections, two of which are documented in this NY Times article today.




    0



    0
  6. DL says:

    The integrity of the system must be preserved. Both side claim the other cheats. One side doesn’t want strong IDs -DUH!




    0



    0
  7. James Joyner says:

    Welfare? Oh, snap! You’ve earned your right-wing street cred for the nonce, Joyner.

    I’m merely allowing for the objection that some of these people don’t have jobs and therefore don’t need ID to get them. And, surely, some significant percentage of those who can’t produce ID are in fact unemployed, no? At least, as you say, in the above ground economy.




    0



    0
  8. jainphx says:

    Please!! Senior citizens need I.D. to cash Checks, rent movies, and actually have to give a thumb print in most banks. The poor need I.D. for all of the same. Quit with your Democrapic sniveling. We all know the reason you want no I.D. and you are not even honest enough to admit it. The amount of voter fraud perpetrated by the Democraps, if truth be known, is astounding. How does 110% of voters vote in Democrap precincts.




    0



    0
  9. jpe says:

    Does the state of Indiana offer a free way to obtain a valid photo ID? If not, then they are by extension requiring you to pay in order to vote.

    Agreed. If not, it sounds like a poll tax. IIRC, courts dispense with this by comparing the cost of a license to to the cost of gas to drive to the polls, but I find this utterly unconvincing. FWIW, I don’t give a hoot about the policy arguments here; my sole motivating concern is that the Constitution forbids poll taxes. W/o free ID, it’s a poll tax.




    0



    0
  10. jpe says:

    (just wanted to point out briefly that the court notes that IN provides free IDs. See fn 6.)




    0



    0
  11. Michael says:

    just wanted to point out briefly that the court notes that IN provides free IDs. See fn 6.

    In that case, and baring any other unlawful requirements to get an ID, I don’t see the problem.




    0



    0
  12. robertl says:

    I’ve always had trouble getting too worked up about this. It just seems to me if someone cannot generate the energy or need to have some form of photo ID then they probably won’t have the energy to go out and vote.




    0



    0
  13. Michael says:

    I’ve always had trouble getting too worked up about this. It just seems to me if someone cannot generate the energy or need to have some form of photo ID then they probably won’t have the energy to go out and vote.

    Ok then, try replacing your right to vote with any other right, and you will probably see what there is to get worked up about. Imagine if someone said you needed a driver’s license to exercise your free speech, or that you needed a government-tracked photo ID to practice your religion. Even if you already met the requirement, you would be offended that it was required at all.




    0



    0
  14. James Joyner says:

    Imagine if someone said you needed a driver’s license to exercise your free speech, or that you needed a government-tracked photo ID to practice your religion.

    But we’ve always treated voting differently. For one thing, the right can be taken away after a criminal conviction. You have to be 18 years old. You have to have registered and met minimum residency requirements in your locality. It’s just an entirely different thing.




    0



    0
  15. Michael says:

    But we’ve always treated voting differently. For one thing, the right can be taken away after a criminal conviction. You have to be 18 years old. You have to have registered and met minimum residency requirements in your locality. It’s just an entirely different thing.

    Not entirely, there have been plenty of cases where those under 18 are punished for exercising their free speech rights, and they certainly haven’t been protected from discrimination or illegal searches. Children (those under 18) are generally considered subordinate to their parents, it’s not just a voting rights thing.

    The registration and residency requirements are not a prerequisite to your right to vote. As a US citizen, you have the right to elect your representatives in government. The registration and residency requirements are to make sure you’re actually voting on an office that will be representing you, because otherwise you don’t have the right to vote for that office.




    0



    0
  16. Mithras says:

    Please!! Senior citizens need I.D. to cash Checks, rent movies, and actually have to give a thumb print in most banks. The poor need I.D. for all of the same.

    You don’t need ID to receive social security or medicare. And in what universe does a Blockbuster require a photo ID?




    0



    0
  17. joe says:

    The government has to balance serving citizens with putting chains on them to further their own cause. The idea of forcing ID’s to be shown at every instance is plays into the typical government attitude of “we need to keep an eye on people.” This nation was founded on the power of the people, not on the power of the government. Attorneys had better keep an eye on federal and state government moves that overpower the rights of their own citizens.




    0



    0