The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld the voter ID law signed in 2011 by Gov. Scott Walker.
The court was divided in the rulings, which involved cases brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP with the activist group Voces de la Frontera.
The court, while upholding the law, said the state must guarantee that voters could get an ID without paying a fee to the government. Justice Patience D. Roggensack, for the majority in one of the cases, wrote, "The State of Wisconsin may not enact a law that requires any elector, rich or poor, to pay a fee of any amount to a government agency as a precondition to the elector's exercising his or her constitutional right to vote."
Dissenting in both cases, Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson said the state failed to provide a compelling interest to create this new burden on voters. She wrote, in what likely will be a widely shared quotation from one dissent: "Today the court follows not James Madison — for whom Wisconsin's capital city is named —but rather Jim Crow — the name typically used to refer to repressive laws used to restrict rights, including the right to vote, of African-Americans."
Republican backers have argued that requiring voters to show ID would cut down on voter fraud and boost public confidence in the integrity of the election process. But opponents said concerns over voter fraud were overblown and not documented and the true intent of the law was to cut down on turnout among minorities and others more likely to vote Democratic.
The measure remains the focus of a dispute in the federal courts. In that arena, the Justice Department this week sided with challengers of the measure, saying in court filings that it unfairly affects minority voters.
The statute was struck down in April by a federal judge as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. The case is now on appeal with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the Justice Department on July 30 submitted a brief calling the statute unlawful and arguing that its photo ID requirements unfairly burden minorities.
The Justice Department criticized Wisconsin’s law as discriminatory and an effort to block access to the ballot box. Justice also filed with the challengers of a voter ID law in Ohio.
"These filings are necessary to confront the pernicious measures in Wisconsin and Ohio that would impose significant barriers to the most basic right of our democracy," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, calling the laws the "latest, misguided attempts to fix a system that isn't broken."
The Justice Department has warned of legal actions against states after the Supreme Court last year wiped out the most powerful provision of the Voting Rights Act. That provision required select states with a history of discrimination in voting - mainly in the South — to receive Washington's approval before changing the way they hold elections.
Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said, "The federal court was right to strike down this discriminatory law, and the federal government clearly agrees with them. It's too bad that some elected officials still seem fixated on depriving Wisconsinites of the right to vote."
For the law to take effect, Wisconsin Republicans still must win at the federal level.
Early on July 31, Walker's office released a short statement under the headline, "Governor Scott Walker's reforms upheld in all Supreme Court cases."
Regarding the court's rulings on the voter ID law, Walker stated, "Voter ID is a common sense reform that protects the integrity of our elections. People need to have confidence in our electoral process and to know their vote has been properly counted. We look forward to the same result from the federal court of appeals."
The League of Women Voters Wisconsin expressed "disappointed that a majority of Wisconsin Supreme Court justices did not agree with the League of Women Voters or the growing numbers of federal judges who have recently found that strict voter ID laws are more likely to prevent thousands of qualified citizens from voting than to deter the extremely small number of potential illegal votes."
The league noted Abrahamson's dissent and reminded voters that it "won an early injunction in our challenge to the voter ID law, helping ensure that no eligible voter was disenfranchised by the law through seven elections, including the 2012 presidential election."
An estimated 300,000 registered Wisconsin citizens do not possess one of the IDs allowed under the Wisconsin voter ID law.
On the record…
In the NAACP/Voces de la Frontera case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling was 4-3 to uphold the law. Justices Patience D. Roggensack, Michael T. Gableman, David T. Prosser Jr. and Annette Kingsland Ziegler were in the majority. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and N. Patrick Crooks were in the minority.
In the League of Women Voters case, the ruling was 5-2. Justices Patience D. Roggensack, Michael J. Gableman, David T. Prosser Jr., Annette Kingsland Ziegler and N. Patrick Crooks were in the majority. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented.