A long and bitter Wisconsin trial ended Tuesday afternoon with a sweeping defeat for supporters of a voter-ID law designed to make it more difficult for citizens to cast ballots. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman declared in a 90-page order that the state’s new voting restrictions violate both the equal-protection clause of the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The law unduly burdens minority voters, he ruled, without sufficient justification for doing so. Adelman’s ruling will be appealed by the Republican officials who enacted it in 2011. It is far from certain that the ruling will withstand review by the very conservative 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the even more conservative Supreme Court, which in 2008’s Crawford v. Marion County declared that state voter-ID laws could be constitutional. In the meantime, the law—which required all voters to present photo identification to vote—is enjoined from enforcement.
No matter how they rule, appellate judges can’t erase Adelman’s meticulous work. More than any other ruling yet issued on the current generation of voter-ID laws—more than the 2012 rulings in Texas or South Carolina or the ruling this year in Pennsylvania—Adelman directly confronts and demolishes the myth that these measures are necessary to ensure the integrity of elections by preventing “voter fraud.”
Tuesday’s ruling in Frank v. Walker does for the judicial canon what Jane Mayer’s work on the myth of “voter fraud” did in the realm of journalism. For page after page, Adelman lays bare the shibboleth that these measures, which disproportionately burden the poor, elderly, and infirm, are necessary to preserve the integrity of our elections.