In late 2011, the Obama administration blocked a South Carolina law that required voters to show a photo ID before casting their ballots, finding that it could disenfranchise tens of thousands of minority voters, who were more likely than whites to lack such IDs. But when South Carolina asked a federal court in Washington to approve the law, Brett Kavanaugh wrote the opinion upholding it. He ruled that the measure was not discriminatory, even though the Obama administration claimed that it violated the Voting Rights Act. Judge Kavanaugh, whom President Trump nominated for the Supreme Court recently, pointed to a 2008 Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s voter ID law, which he interpreted as giving states broad leeway to restrict their voting procedures. “Many states, particularly in the wake of the voting system problems exposed during the 2000 elections, have enacted stronger voter ID laws, among various other recent changes to voting laws,” he noted in approval.
In addition to voter ID laws, these “recent changes to voting laws” include polling place closings, new hurdles to voter registration, and cutbacks in early voting days. Since 2011, some 22 states, mostly controlled by Republicans, have passed laws to restrict access to the ballot, which disproportionately target Democratic constituencies such as people of color.
These efforts have been encouraged by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. In 2013, the court tore out the heart of the Voting Rights Act,ruling that mostly Southern states with a long history of voting discrimination no longer needed to have their election changes approved by the federal government beforehand.