Wisconsin’s tough voter ID law upheld after Supreme Court declines to hear case

Reuters / Jonathan Ernst

Reuters / Jonathan Ernst

The Supreme Court declined to review a challenge to a Wisconsin law requiring voters to present photo identification at polling places. As a result, the federal appeals court ruling that the state may proceed with voter ID requirements was upheld.

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied a request to hear the case
Frank v. Walker without explanation. The suit, filed by the
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Ruthelle Frank
and Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., claimed that the state’s voter ID law
is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens of the right to
vote. On April 29, 2014, the district court struck down
Wisconsin’s voter ID law, but on October 6, a divided appellate
court reversed the ruling.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is a huge step backward for our
Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair
said in a statement Monday. “The 300,000 registered Wisconsin
voters who lack the limited forms of photo ID needed to vote in
Wisconsin ‒ disproportionately African Americans and Latinos ‒
deserve to have their voices heard in our political

“The values enshrined in our Constitution, and protected in
the Voting Rights Act, are undermined when burdensome laws like
photo ID requirements make the ballot box inaccessible to any
eligible voters,”
Hair continued. “Our elections should
always be free, fair and accessible to all citizens. Under
Wisconsin’s restrictive photo ID law, they simply are not.”

The ACLU claimed, based on research the group commissioned, that
the law has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters,
who are more likely to lack photo ID accepted for voting in
Wisconsin. Elderly voters, like Frank and Holloway, are also
disenfranchised by the law.

READ MORE: Virginia, Maryland plagued with 44k
duplicate voters

Frank was born in her home in Brokaw, Wisconsin in 1927, and does
not have a certified copy of her birth certificate, which
precludes her from obtaining an accepted form of ID under the
state’s law. The Wisconsin Register of Deeds has a record of her
birth and can produce a certified copy of her birth certificate,
but at a cost. The record on file, however, has an incorrect
spelling of her maiden name: Wedepohl, and is consequently an
unacceptable form of identification. It could cost Frank more
than $200 to correct the mistakes, the ACLU said.

Holloway is unable to get a driver’s license because his birth
certificate incorrectly lists his name as “Eddie Junior
due to a decades-old clerical error. His Social
Security Card and an expired Illinois photo ID ‒ both bearing the
name “Eddie L Holloway Jr” ‒ do not qualify him to
obtain an acceptable form of ID in Wisconsin. He is currently
severely disabled, unemployed and homeless, and cannot afford to
rectify the situation, according to the civil rights group.

Although the Supreme Court’s non-action allows the state’s voter
ID law to go into effect immediately, it won’t go into effect
until after the April 7 elections in Wisconsin. Voting is
currently underway in the state for school board, municipal and
Wisconsin Supreme Court positions.

“Absentee ballots are already in the hands of voters,
therefore, the law cannot be implemented for the April 7
the state’s attorney general, Brad Schimel, said
in a statement issued shortly after the Supreme Court’s
announcement. “The Voter ID law will be in place for future
elections ‒ this decision is final.”

The ACLU said the state’s decision not to implement the law
immediately was a relief.

“We’re pleased the state has agreed with the ACLU’s position
that imposing a new restriction on voters in the midst of an
election is a recipe for disaster,”
Dale Ho, the director of
the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “For
now, the voters of Wisconsin will be able to cast their ballots
free from the burdens placed on them by this law. But this should
be the case for voters permanently, not just for one

The civil rights group is now weighing its options, as the
Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case merely allows the
federal appeals court ruling upholding the law to stand, Ho told

“It doesn’t preclude future challenges to that law on the
basis of other legal theories, or challenges to particular
aspects of the law,”
Ho told NPR. He noted, for example,
that Veterans Administration identification cards, which include
photos, are not allowed as acceptable forms of voter ID in
Wisconsin ‒ indicating that might be one possible avenue for

READ MORE: Veteran denied voting rights over lack
of ID

“This is just one more development in the ongoing debate
about voter identification, but it is by no means the last
Ho said. “The Supreme Court didn’t say that
Wisconsin’s voter ID law was constitutional or unconstitutional.
It just declined to take the case, which means that it’s still an
open question in the US Supreme Court whether or not these kinds
of very strict ID laws violate federal law.”

The ACLU may also focus its efforts on North Carolina and Texas,
where federal court cases are pending. In August 2013, the

Justice Department sued Texas
over its voter ID law, after
the state began mandating photo ID
inside of polling places. A month later, the DOJ similarly sued
North Carolina
over its law, which requires
photo IDs in 2016
; the case is scheduled for this summer.

Both states passed restrictive voter ID laws after the Supreme
Court voted 5-4 to gut
Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act
in 2013. That part of
the law explained the formula used by Congress to identify
regions of the US subject to extra scrutiny when local lawmakers
try to change election rules. Section 4 was the precursor to
Section 5, which gives the federal government the power to
“preclear” any state or local changes in election rules
that could potentially prevent minorities from voting.

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