Voting-rights proponents have run into some judicial roadblocks lately, making last night’s victories that much more satisfying for democracy advocates.
There were two big rulings, but let’s start at the top, where the U.S. Supreme Court blocked implementation of Wisconsin Republicans’ chaos-enducing voter-ID scheme in a 6-3 decision.
A divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin’s voter ID law late Thursday, issuing a terse yet dramatic one-page ruling less than four weeks before the Nov. 4 election.The 6-3 vote means in all likelihood the requirement to show ID at the polls will not be in effect for the election. But Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would seek ways to reinstate the law within the month.
While GOP officials in the state look for new ways to suppress voter participation, the high court’s ruling (pdf), at least for now, puts an end to the most chaotic voting dynamic in the nation.
As we discussed the other day, most estimates suggest over 300,000 otherwise-eligible Wisconsin residents lack the documentation necessary – documentation they never had to provide in previous elections – to cast a ballot in their own election. The state also set aside exactly $0 for state agencies to help voters navigate and comply with the new, unnecessary law.
Remember, Republican policymakers in Wisconsin imposed these restrictions to address a “voter fraud” scourge that doesn’t actually exist.
Making matters much worse, thousands of Wisconsin voters already cast absentee ballots in this election, having been led to believe their votes would be counted, only to recently learn that because they never showed a required form of identification, their vote may not count after all.
As of last night, the chaos is over, by order of the Supreme Court. Three Republican-appointed justices – Alito, Thomas, and Scalia – sided with Wisconsin GOP officials, while Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan delivered a victory to voting-rights advocates.
Making matters even more satisfying for those who support voter access to their own democracy, advocates won a related victory at nearly the same time last night.
Zach Roth reports on developments in Texas.
In a scathing 147-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, wrote that the Texas law not only runs afoul of the VRA ban on racial discrimination, but also is an unconstitutional poll tax, because it requires those without ID to spend time and money to acquire one. The law’s challengers – voting rights groups and the Justice Department – had presented a parade of expert witnesses at trial to make that case.Gonzales Ramos also found that the law not only had the effect of discriminating against minorities, but was designed to do so.“Proponents of [the law] within the 82nd Texas Legislature were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate,” she wrote.
For voting-rights proponents, it’s a heartening win, but it may not last. Republican officials in Texas said they will “immediately” appeal, and elections-law expert Rick Hasen explained that the state is likely to prevail at the 5th Circuit.
At least for now, however, the ruling in the Texas case (pdf), which endorsed the notion that voter-ID laws are a modern-day poll tax, capped a good night for democracy.