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Justice ponders importance of party-line vote

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As the Indiana Supreme Court justices considered the constitutionality of the state's voter ID law this week, one jurist wondered how much the legislative process might factor into the court's analysis of whether a statute is constitutional.

Justices heard arguments Thursday in League of Women Voters of Indiana and League of Women Voters of Indianapolis v. Todd Rokita, No. 49S02-1001-CV-50, which involves the highly controversial state statute passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2005. It requires voters to show a state-issued photo ID before they're allowed to cast a ballot in person, and in the five years since that passage it's been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States on federal grounds.

The Indiana Court of Appeals in September reversed a Marion County judge's decision on the issue, finding it unconstitutional because it doesn't equally apply to all voters and imposes qualifications that are too burdensome to some voters. Justices are considering those issues as they apply to the state constitution.

During oral arguments, Justice Frank Sullivan asked Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher about whether the party-line vote and legislative division factored into this analysis at all. The two were discussing how the state views the statutory requirements as a way to ensure integrity and reliability in the election process.

"Wouldn't we feel better about all of this if it hadn't been enacted on party-line votes, though?" Justice Sullivan asked.

Fisher responded that could be the case with any law, but he didn't see that as factoring into a statute's constitutionality.

"There's all kinds of laws, I'm sure over the years, that have been enacted that way, and if we started worrying about party-line votes we'd have a completely new category of constitutional challenges," he said. "What we've got here is a General Assembly, elected by the people to represent the people, that enacted a law that they thought fit the circumstances that best balanced competing concerns on access to ballots and election integrity. That's what the court is left with, and the court isn't in a position to look behind that and think about whether the motives were pure or there was enough bipartisanship. This isn't part of any constitutional analysis the courts have articulated."

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