If there was any doubt before, after several findings by several courts that the Wisconsin GOP's attempts to institute polling place Photo ID restrictions were in strict violation of their state Constitution, yesterday's verdict ought to (but probably won't) put a hard end to that question...
Circuit Judge David Flanagan ruled that Wisconsin Act 23, the voter ID law, "tells more than 300,000 Wisconsin voters who do not now have an acceptable form of photo identification that they cannot vote unless they first obtain a photo ID card."
That requirement, he wrote, imposes a "substantial burden" upon a significant proportion of state residents who are registered or eligible to vote because of the cost and difficulty of obtaining documents needed to apply for a state photo ID. That creates a "substantial impairment" to the right to vote guaranteed by the Wisconsin Constitution, he wrote.
Months ago, not long after the state's controversial Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill into law, The BRAD BLOG's legal analyst Ernest Canning predicted it would be found unconstitutional, and subsequently rejected by the courts, barring a blatantly political finding by the state's partisan Supreme Court. Since then, all courts to have looked at the cases filed against the law in the state, have all agreed with counselor Canning's own findings.
In March, the same judge whose verdict was heard yesterday in Dane County, had placed a temporary injunction on the law, in response to the case filed against it by the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP, in advance of this year's round of historic recall elections in the Badger State. At the time, prior to the trial, Flanagan said he believed the law would be found unconstitutional, and called it "restrictive", as well as "extremely broad and largely needless."
Days later, in another challenge to the same law, this time by the WI League of Women Voters, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Neiss also found the law to be in strict violation of the state's constitution which guarantees the right to vote, and protects against statutory restrictions on that right. He placed a permanent injunction on it, saying that it was an attempt to use 'legislative fiat" to "turn our constitutional scheme of democratic government squarely on its head." He added that the law's "photo ID requirements impermissibly eliminate the right of suffrage altogether for certain constitutionally qualified electors."
Nonetheless, the state's Republican state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen pressed on through a number of emergency appeals on both findings, only to be rejected by the state Supreme Court in April, which sent the case back down to the appellate court in the League of Women Voters case, and to await the full trial in Flanagan's courtroom in the NAACP case.
Flanagan's final verdict finally came down yesterday, though, naturally, as the Wisconsin State Journal reports, "Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which defended the law in court, said an appeal is likely but that a decision won't be made until after a full review of Flanagan's decision."
The paper also notes that, as has been found in every single other state where Republican's have passed purposely disenfranchising polling place Photo ID restrictions under the guise of needing them to protect against "voter fraud", "according to Flanagan's decision, investigations carried out since 2004 by the Milwaukee Police Department and mayor's office and the state Department of Justice have not produced a prosecution of a voter fraud violation that would have been prevented by the photo ID requirements of the voter ID law."
In related voter suppression news this week... Court hearings have been under way in several different challenges to Republican attempts to impose polling place Photo ID restrictions in other states as well.
On Tuesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments in the ACLU's challenge to a Republican ballot initiative which would rewrite the state's constitution to require Photo ID restrictions at the polling place when voting. The civil liberties group has argued, as The BRAD BLOG's Canning recently detailed, that the wording on the initiative is purposely misleading, and fails to explain the full extent of the measure, if it is successfully adopted by voters this November. The state Justices were tough in their questions to the GOP supporters of the initiative, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune, describing it as both "deceptive" and "a bait and switch". The challengers want to see the question struck from the November ballot entirely or, at a minimum, reworded to explain what the measure would actually do. The Republican supporters argue that it's their sole prerogative, as the majority in the state legislature, to compose wording on the ballot question in any way they see fit.
Late last week, a federal court in Washington D.C. heard an appeal by Republicans from the state of Texas, arguing that their recently enacted polling place Photo ID restriction law does not discriminate against racial minorities in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as previously determined by the U.S. Dept. of Justice. In March, the DoJ rejected the law, finding that, according to data submitted by the state itself, the new law would disproportionately affect legally registered Hispanic voters. The statistics supplied by TX detailed that Hispanic voters were anywhere from 46% to 120% more likely (depending upon which of the two data sets submitted by the state were examined) than non-Hispanic voters, to lack the type of Photo ID that would now be required at the polling place to exercise the right to vote under the new law.
In a new report released today by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, the non-partisan government watchdog organization finds that 11% of eligible voters in states where the GOP has passed Photo ID voting restrictions over the past year, currently lack the documentation that would be required to vote under the new laws.
They note that some 10 million voters will face likely hardship in being able to cast their vote under the new restrictions, if the new, and unnecessary, rules are not struck down before this November's election.