September 17, 2014

September 17, 2014 | Commentary on Legal Issues, Elections

Voter ID Wins Big in Wisconsin

Voter-ID opponents have suffered another stunning blow.

On Friday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved the injunction that had been issued against Wisconsin’s voter-ID law by a federal district court in April. The court told Wisconsin that it “may, if it wishes (and if it is appropriate under rules of state law), enforce the photo ID requirement in this November’s elections.” In reaction, Kevin Kennedy, the state’s top election official, said that Wisconsin would take all steps necessary “to fully implement the voter photo ID law for the November general election.” The appeals court issued its one-page opinion within hours of hearing oral arguments in the appeal.

As I explained in an NRO article in May, the district court judge, Lynn Adelman, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic state senator, had issued an injunction claiming the Wisconsin ID law violated the Voting Rights Act as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. Adelman made the startling claim in his opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 upholding Indiana’s voter-ID law as constitutional was “not binding precedent,” so Adelman could essentially ignore it.

However, that was too much for the Seventh Circuit. It pointed out, in what most lawyers would consider a rebuke, that Adelman had held Wisconsin’s law invalid “even though it is materially identical to Indiana’s photo ID statute, which the Supreme Court held valid in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008).”

It was also obviously significant to the Seventh Circuit that the Wisconsin state supreme court had upheld the state’s voter-ID law in July, since the three-judge panel cited that decision, Milwaukee Branch of NAACP v. Walker, too. In fact, the appeals court said the state court decision had changed the “balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief.”

In other words, there was no justification for striking down a state voter-ID law that was identical to one that had been previously upheld by both the Supreme Court of the United States and that state’s highest court.

This decision is only on the appropriateness of the injunction that was issued. But in a bad omen for the plaintiffs, the Seventh Circuit said the “state’s probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.” The appeal “remains under advisement” and the court said that “an opinion on the merits will issue in due course.”

This is also another big defeat for Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced in July that the Justice Department would be intervening in this lawsuit. The Department lost a lawsuit that claimed South Carolina’s voter-ID law was discriminatory in 2012, and a federal judge recently refused to issue an injunction against North Carolina’s voter-ID law in another lawsuit filed by Justice.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is in a hard-fought reelection campaign, said after news of the Seventh Circuit’s action came out that “voter ID is a commonsense reform that protects the integrity of our voting process.” Echoing similar claims by state representative JoCasta Zamarripa of Milwaukee, Dale Ho, a lawyer at the ACLU, claims this will cause “chaos at the polls,” despite the fact that there has been no such “chaos” in any of the other states that have implemented voter-ID laws over the past ten years. 

What this decision means is that, as Governor Walker said, at least in Wisconsin, it will now be “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” And it adds to the long string of losses suffered by opponents of voter-ID laws. Slowly but surely, voter ID is getting implemented across the country.

 - Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Hans A. von Spakovsky Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Originally appeared in NRO's "The Corner"