On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a Wisconsin photo identification law passed in 2011. The law was briefly in effect for the February 2012 primary election, but it has been in legal limbo since then.
Opponents of the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), charge that it is unconstitutional. They contend that the law places undue hardship on certain segments of the population including students, the elderly, and the poor, groups who are disproportionately likely to lack the required form of identification.
A federal judge declared the law unconstitutional in 2014, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago later overturned that ruling. The ACLU filed a motion to the U.S. Supreme Court appealing the 7th U.S. Circuit Court’s ruling, but on Monday, the Supreme Court turned away that appeal.
Monday’s ruling clears the way for Wisconsin to impose a photo identification requirement on voters. 30 U.S. states have photo identification laws in place. 17 of them have passed voter ID laws since the Supreme Court upheld an Indiana voter ID law in 2008.
The Wisconsin law lacks consistency. For example, overseas military ballots are accepted, without any identification required whatsoever. By contrast, student’s using a university ID must not only bring their photo ID, but they must also provide additional paperwork, demonstrating proof of current enrollment.
Voter ID laws may seem well-intentioned, but their real purpose is not to eliminate the largely imaginary problem of in-person voter fraud. Instead, they are designed to make it more difficult to vote. Specifically, Republicans like to pass voter ID laws that make it more difficult for Democratic-leaning voters to cast a ballot, although the restrictions undoubtedly have the unintended consequence of imposing burdens on some Republican voters as well.
Voter ID laws are a “solution” to a non-existent problem. Nationally, the ratio is one case of in-person voting fraud for every 14.6 million registered voters. As Judge Richard Posner, a Ronald Reagan appointee on the 7th Circuit Court, made it clear in his 2014 dissent:
There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, if there is no actual danger of such fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.
He also chastised fellow justices, by pointing out the absurdity of upholding a law that was passed as a solution in search of a problem:
If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?
Actually, he probably shouldn’t have planted that seed. The Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature might very well decide passing a law permitting witch trials is a good idea.
The U.S. Supreme Court signaled its hostility towards voting when it struck down key portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Monday’s decision to uphold Wisconsin’s voter ID law, demonstrates once again, that a majority on the current Supreme Court want to make it more difficult for Americans to vote.