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Federal Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin's Polling Place Photo ID Law in Landmark Ruling

Ruling finds restrictions on voting violate both the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
 
 
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Very big news out of a federal court in Wisconsin today, where the state's polling place Photo ID law (Act 23) has now been  struck down as both a violation of the federal Constitutional as well as under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

While similar laws, all enacted by Republicans, have been struck down by state courts before --- indeed, Wisconsin's, was already  found in violation of the state constitution in state court --- and  in federal courts under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, today's ruling is the first to strike down such a law under Section 2 of the VRA.

The landmark ruling will almost certainly have national implications for federal challenges in other states against similar restrictions recently enacted by Republicans.

Last summer, the  U.S. Supreme Court gutted the heart of the VRA by making Section 5 unenforceable until Congress passes legislation to determine which jurisdictions must pre-clear new elections laws with the Dept. of Justice before enacting them, due to a history of racial discrimination at the polls in those jurisdictions. Section 2, however, bars discrimination in all 50 states, even though it cannot be applied before a law is enacted, as Section 5 does.

Judge Lynn Adelman's ruling [PDF] today, finding WI's version of the law discriminatory and in violation of both Section 2 and the 14th Amendment of the federal Constitution, is likely to have an impact on federal challenges to similar laws in states such as Texas and North Carolina, where federal cases are pending to block similarly discriminatory polling place restrictions.

Moreover, the judge placed the racial and class discrimination and disenfranchisement that would be caused by this law in stark terms, in regard to how many otherwise legal voters in Wisconsin might lose their right to vote, and how such a law might have directly affected the results of the state's 2010 election, had it been place at the time...

 

The Nation's Ari Berman explains:

Wisconsin federal district court Judge Lynn Adelman  ruled today that the state's voter ID law, which was temporarily enjoined in 2012, violated the 14th amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Judge Adelman found that 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin, roughly 9 percent of registered voters, lacked the government-issued ID required by the state to cast a ballot. "To put this number in context," Adelman wrote, "in 2010 the race for governor in Wisconsin was decided by 124,638 votes, and the race for United States Senator was decided by 105,041 votes. Thus, the number of registered voters who lack a qualifying ID is large enough to change the outcome of Wisconsin elections."

 

The voter ID law had a clear discriminatory impact, the judge found. "The evidence adduced at trial demonstrates that this unique burden disproportionately impacts Black and Latino voters," Adelman wrote. Data from the 2012 election "showed that African American voters in Wisconsin were 1.7 times as likely as white voters to lack a matching driver's license or state ID and that Latino voters in Wisconsin were 2.6 times as likely as white voters to lack these forms of identification."

The judge found that Wisconsin's ID law overwhelmingly impacted lower-income voters and that "Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.... The reason Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, and therefore to lack a qualifying ID, is because they have suffered from, and continue to suffer from, the effects of discrimination."

Reading his opinion, it seemed as if Judge Adelman were directly addressing the  "colorblind" ideology of Chief Justice John Roberts, who has argued that voting discrimination is largely a thing of the past and that consideration of race to remedy past discrimination is, in and of itself, discriminatory.

 
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