The nine justices heard an hour of arguments at 10 a.m. in the combined Hoosier cases of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, No. 07-21, and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, No. 07-25. Both challenge the state's three-year-old voter photo ID law that's been upheld by both U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Stakes are high. Courts have upheld voter ID laws in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, but struck down Missouri's. Indiana has the strictest statute in the country, and the future of all these types of laws could come by late June, just in time for the general election in November.
Justices could use the case to guide courts on weighing claims of voter fraud against those of disenfranchisement, and many legal scholars point to this being the most significant voting-related case since the Supreme Court's bitterly divided decision Bush v. Gore, which clinched the 2000 presidential election for George W. Bush.
Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher argued for the state attorney general's office, and U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement also argued on behalf of the government. Washington, D.C., attorney Paul M. Smith - a partner at Jenner & Block who's argued a dozen times before the court - took on the petitioners' side for the Indiana Democratic Party and American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.
Petitioners' attorneys, Ken Falk with the ACLU of Indiana and William Groth for the Democratic Party, sat in court and observed.
Indiana Lawyer could reach neither Groth nor Fisher for comment following the proceeding, but Falk said he wasn't surprised by the tone of the arguments.
Justices focused mostly on aspects of whether the burden is real and what justification exists for the law, Falk said. Several asked how attorneys could argue no potential fraud or disenfranchisement exists, and how many people this law could hinder. A general consensus from justices seemed that some people would be burdened, Falk said. Smith argued "quite forcefully" that no justification exists, he said.
"All three who argued got questions from the court that were all over the place and went back and forth," Falk said, noting that it's nearly impossible to predict an outcome.
Falk said the packed courtroom included a handful of Hoosier officials and attorneys, including Marion County Clerk Beth White, Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, and Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter. Indiana Tax Court Judge Thomas G. Fisher also attended to watch his son's arguments.
After arguments, Falk was meeting with Senators Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to discuss the future of voter identification statutes in the country, according to the ACLU-Indiana's Web site.
More coverage of the arguments can be found online at the Indiana Lawyer Web site, as well as in the Jan. 23 print edition of the newspaper.