Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Voter ID

 In Case Updates, Voter ID Litigation

On the last day of its 2013-2014 Term, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin issued two opinions upholding Wisconsin’s Voter ID law.  WILL has been a key player in that fight, filing amicus briefs on behalf of diverse clients arguing to uphold the law.

Writing for the majorities in Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Walker and League of Women Voters v. Walker, Justice Patience Roggensack ruled that Wisconsin’s Voter ID law was constitutional.  The plaintiffs in NAACP had argued that Voter ID violated the fundamental right to vote, while the plaintiffs in League of Women Voters‌ argued that the law created an “additional qualification” on voters not permitted under the Wisconsin Constitution.

In NAACP, the court followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008), which upheld Indiana’s Voter ID law against a similar challenge.  The court concluded that the Voter ID requirement was a reasonable regulation of elections because the burdens associated with obtaining an ID were not severe: “the inconvenience of making a trip to [a state motor vehicle office], gathering the required documents, and posing for a photograph surely does not qualify as a substantial burden on the right to vote.”  However, the court did rule that charging people for a birth certificate, which is a necessary document to obtain an otherwise-free photo ID for voting, would impose an unconstitutional poll tax.  To solve that problem, the court ordered the DMV to accept applications for Voter ID’s without birth certificates if the person lacks one.

In League of Women Voters, the court concluded that the Voter ID law avoided Wisconsin constitutional constraints on election laws the legislature may pass.  It noted that since the earliest days of statehood, Wisconsin courts held that “it is clearly within [the legislature’s] province to require any person offering to vote[] to furnish such proof as it deems requisite[] that he is a qualif[i]ed elector.”  Furthermore, the court found the law was a reasonable method of allowing election officials to verify that the individual appearing at the polls is in fact “the elector listed on the registration list.”

NAACP was decided on a 4-3 vote, with Chief Justice Abrahamson and Justices Bradley and N. Patrick Crooks dissenting.  League of Women Voters came down 5-2, which the Chief Justice and Justice Bradley dissenting.

Despite these rulings, Voter ID remains on hold as a federal district court judge, Lynn S. Adelman, has enjoined it.  That case is on appeal to the Seventh Circuit, where briefing is currently pending.

NAACP can be read hereLeague of Women Voters can be read here.

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