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Attorneys ask justices to consider voter ID case

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In an expected move, the Indiana Attorney General's Office has asked the state Supreme Court to consider whether the 4-year-old voter identification law is constitutional.

That happened Friday, and today the attorneys who'd persuaded the Indiana Court of Appeals to strike down the statute planned to file a transfer petition seeking Supreme Court review.

So begins the briefing period that will further expand the legal reasons various attorneys think the Indiana Supreme Court should weigh in on the constitutionality of the state's voter ID law, which is now in flux after the ruling in League of Women Voters of Indiana and League of Women Voters of Indianapolis Inc. v. Todd Rokita, in his official capacity as Indiana Secretary of State, No. 49A02-0901-CV-40.

A unanimous Indiana Court of Appeals panel of Judges Patricia Riley, James Kirsch, and Paul Mathias reversed Sept. 17 a ruling by Marion Superior Judge S.K. Reid, who late last year upheld the state statute and found it didn't violate Indiana Constitution Article 2, Section 2 and Article 1, Section 23. Instead, the appellate judges found the law "regulates voters in a manner that's not uniform and impartial," and as a result they instructed the trial judge to enter an order declaring it void.

While this is the first time the state justices could consider this issue as it relates to the Indiana Constitution, the federal courts - U.S. Supreme Court, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana - have all upheld the state statute adopted by the General Assembly in 2005.

In its transfer petition, the AG's office urges the state justices to accept the case on grounds that this case signifies an issue of great public importance that it notes "protects the legitimacy of elections," "enjoyed 75 percent public support at the time of enactment," and has been upheld at each federal court level.

The main arguments in the petition are:

• The League wrongfully sued the Indiana Secretary of State, who does not enforce the statute; the Court of Appeals dismissed this issue after finding he was a satisfactory defendant.

• The in-person and absentee voting processes are inherently different in ways that matter to the usefulness of the voter ID requirement.

• The nursing home precinct exemption reasonably relates to inherent characteristics of residents who vote where they live.

• "The Voter ID Law is self-evidently constitutional, so there has never been any point in proceeding with discovery or evidentiary submissions," the brief states. "The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals, however, responded to the motion to dismiss not simply by reinstating the case, but by ordering judgment against the State. The State has not even been permitted to answer the complaint, much less put the League to its burden or come forward with evidence. In this regard, the decision below departs so significantly from law and practice that it independently justifies granting transfer."

Indianapolis attorney Bill Groth at Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe told Indiana Lawyer he planned to file the League's transfer petition today. The petition relates to the appellate court's finding that the law isn't a substantive voting qualification but a procedural regulation, Groth explained.

Each side will be given a chance to file a set of response briefs before the justices take the issue under advisement. No timeline exists for them to make a decision.

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  2. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  3. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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