Supreme Court won't hear challenge to Wisconsin voter ID law

UPDATED: The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to Wisconsin's voter identification law.

The justices' decision on March 23 means that the law could be put into effect by Republican Gov. Scott Walker's administration.

The Supreme Court decision also indicated that the court put the law on hold last year only because when an appeals court upheld the measure the state was already in the process of carrying out the November midterm election — absentee ballots already had been mailed with no notification of the need to present photo IDs.

The voter ID law was struck down by a federal trial court in April 2014, but that decision was overturned by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The law had been placed on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court while it considered whether to hear the case.

The court, as in tradition with such decisions, did not comment on its order.

Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, said on March 23, "We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court will not consider the Wisconsin voter ID case because it is a matter of national importance. Moreover, we are shocked that the court would announce this so close to a very important election. We hope the court will grant an emergency stay of the law through this election."

Early on March 23, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an emergency motion with a federal appeals court seeking to keep Wisconsin's voter ID law from immediately taking effect.

The ACLU wants the appeals court to extend a stay to prevent a sudden change in requirements while voting is underway in the April 7 general election. As was the case with the midterm election, absentee ballots have already been sent to voters and early in-person voting began this morning.

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a news release, "Although the Supreme Court has declined to take this case, it previously made clear that states may not impose new requirements for voting in the weeks before Election Day. The situation is even more compelling here because absentee ballots have already been mailed out for the April election, and early in-person voting has begun. Imposing a new restriction in the midst of an election will disenfranchise voters who have already cast their ballots. It is a recipe for disaster."

Kaminski said, "This announcement causes confusion for voters and election officials alike. Clerks have already mailed out thousands of absentee ballots to voters without instructions for how to comply with the law. There is a serious risk that many votes will not be counted."

She continued, "More and more states are passing strict voter ID laws, and we have all heard the stories of good citizens who have run into problems because they don’t possess an acceptable, government-issued ID. The problem with our elections is that not enough people vote in them. The last thing we need is laws that erect barriers for people who have been good voters for decades." 

The ACLU challenged the law on behalf of Wisconsin voters, arguing that the measure violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and Dechert LLP are co-counsel in the case, Frank v. Walker.

The Supreme Court petition was jointly filed with the League of United Latin American Citizens, represented by Arnold & Porter and the Advancement Project. LULAC also joined the ACLU’s motion to put Wisconsin’s ID law on hold through the April 7 election.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is a huge step backward for our democracy,” said Advancement Project co-director Penda D. Hair. “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 process. 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. Our elections should always be free, fair and accessible to all citizens. Under Wisconsin’s restrictive photo ID law, they simply are not.”

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