WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can require voters to produce photo identification without violating their constitutional rights, validating Republican-inspired voter ID laws.
In a splintered 6-3 ruling, the court upheld Indiana’s strict photo ID requirement, which Democrats and civil rights groups said would deter poor, older and minority voters from casting ballots. Its backers said it was needed to prevent fraud.
It was the most important voting rights case since the Bush v. Gore dispute that sealed the 2000 election for George W. Bush. But the voter ID ruling lacked the conservative-liberal split that marked the 2000 case.
The law “is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting ‘the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,’” Justice John Paul Stevens said in an opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. Stevens was a dissenter in Bush v. Gore in 2000.
Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also agreed with the outcome, but wrote separately.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, just as they did in 2000.
More than 20 states require some form of identification at the polls. Courts have upheld voter ID laws in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, but struck down Missouri’s. Monday’s decision comes a week before Indiana’s presidential primary.
The decision also could spur efforts to pass similar laws in other states.
Lyle Denniston explains the ruling:
The Supreme Court, voting 6-3, on Monday rejected a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID before they may cast a ballot. Three Justices said the evidence offered against the requirement in Indiana did not support a challenge to the law as written — that is, a “facial” challenge â€“ and three others said the law only imposed a minimal and justified burden on voters. Three Justices dissented. The decision means that the law will be enforced without a legal cloud over it in the presidential primary election in Indiana on May 6. About half of the states have such laws.
The voter ID ruling may turn out to be a significant victory for Republicans at election time, since the requirement for proof of identification is likely to fall most heavily on voters long assumed to be identified with the Democrats — particularly, minority and poor voters. The GOP for years has been actively pursuing a campaign against what it calls “voter fraud” and the Court’s ruling Monday appears to validate that effort, at least in part. The main opinion said states have a valid interest in preventing voting by those not entitled to do so, even if there is no specific proof of that kind of fraud in the state.
While the Court’s main opinion said it was “fair to infer that partisan considerations may have played a significant role” in enacting the photo ID law, it went on to say that that law was neutral in its application and was adequately supported by the justifications the state had offered.
Putting together the three votes of Justices who found the paate rticulart challenge to Indiana’s law wanting on the evidence, with the votes of the three dissenters, means, however, that a majority of the Court has not barred all future challenges to voter ID laws, provided future cases seek to test such laws as they were actually applied in a specific election. Still, the plurality opinion that announced the Court’s judgment â€“ written by Justice John Paul Stevens — probably means that any such “as-applied” challenges would not be easy to make.
The opinions can be read here. As expected, the usual corners are crying foul, believing “harassment” and “disenfranchisement” are just around the corner for poor and elderly Dem voters. How dare voters have to show proof of identity, even when they’re no longer with us!