ILNews

UPDATE: Voter ID questions remain

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Hoosier voters should be ready to show their government-issued photo identification at the polls next week after the Supreme Court of the United States gave a green light to Indiana's voter ID law. Other states may follow suit following the high court's ruling Monday that upheld Indiana's three-year-old statute. But voters and the legal community should be just as ready for a new wave of Election Day regulation and subsequent litigation because six justices agreed to some extent that voters could be burdened by the law. The debate comes following a fractured 6-3 decision Monday in William Crawford, et al. v. Marion County Election Board, et al., No. 07-21, and Indiana Democratic Party, et al. v. Todd Rokita, No. 07-25, a pair of consolidated cases. Opponents argued that the 2005 law would unfairly target people who might have trouble getting an ID, while the state contended it needed the right to impose the rules to prevent voter fraud. But the plurality opinion led to justices conceding that the law could impose some special burden on some voters, though the record doesn't have enough evidence to show what that burden is and that it's severe enough to overturn the state statute entirely. "They haven't completely slammed the courthouse door shut, but it's going to be problematic whether the right set of facts will come along to convince judges this (type of law) should be struck down 'as applied,'" said William Groth, an attorney who represented the Indiana Democratic Party. "It is hard to read Justice (John Paul) Stevens' majority opinion and come away with any clear guidelines." The decision came eight days before Hoosiers head to the polls for the May 6 primary, when a record turnout is expected. During a conference call with media Monday afternoon, Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita called the ruling a "clear cut victory" for states wanting to impose voter ID rules. He said at least 25 states had called his office about the case since it was argued in early January, and now this ruling can serve as a roadmap for those jurisdictions wanting to initiate similar reforms. About 20 states already have some type of voter ID regulation. But debate is already rampant about the ultimate meaning of this decision and what comes next. Ken Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said Monday that he was disappointed but also encouraged by the possibilities left open by the court. If the law does burden voters at the polls next week, that could lead to more ammunition for future litigation. Election law professor Richard Hasen at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, who'd filed an amicus curiae brief in the cases, said the six justices who voted to uphold the law did so for different reasons and only three offered a strict interpretation of defending the law. That means uncertainty for lower courts on this issue, he said. Justice Stevens authored the majority's 21-page opinion, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy concurring; Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito concurred in result with a separate opinion, while Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer dissented, calling the Indiana statute unconstitutional.

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