Federal Court Puts Hold On Wisconsin Voter ID Law

Kevin Daley | Supreme Court Reporter

A federal court placed an injunction on a Wisconsin law requiring voters to present a state issued identification while voting Tuesday, ruling citizens without an official ID may still cast ballots after signing an affidavit affirming their identity.

The ruling was issued by Judge Lynn S. Adelman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

“As explained in more detail below, although most voters in Wisconsin either possess qualifying ID or can easily obtain one, a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort,” Adelman’s order reads. “The plaintiffs’ proposed affidavit option is a sensible approach that will both prevent the disenfranchisement of some voters during the pendency of this litigation and preserve Wisconsin’s interests in protecting the integrity of its elections.” (RELATED: We Need To Make Getting IDs Easier, Not Voting Without Them)

The challenge to Wisconsin Act 23 was first brought in 2011. Adelman struck down the law at the time, finding it violated the Constitution’s 14th Amendment and section 2 of the 1964 Voting Rights Act. On appeal, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit led by Judge Frank Easterbrook reversed Adelman’s ruling. The Seventh Circuit divided 5-5 on whether to rehear the case en banc, remanding the case back to Adelman for further proceedings.

Adelman documented the challenges encountered by voters attempting to obtain an official identification at some length. He cited a particular case in which a Wisconsin woman, who had lost her birth certificate, could not obtain a duplicate copy from the hospital of her birth without paying a fee (a uniquely problematic fact posture in that the Constitution forbids charging citizens fees to vote.)

If Wisconsin does not accept Adelman’s remedy, the state may appeal to the Seventh Circuit. Rick Hasen, a professor of law at University of California Irvine Law School who specializes in election law, wrote on his blog that the Seventh Circuit could overturn Adelman’s ruling if it feels it was issued too close to an election or if they feel it is too dramatic.

“And then if the 7th Circuit reverses and time is getting shorter, what does a 4-4 SCOTUS do?” he wrote. “That’s an interesting question.”

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