A federal judge on Tuesday struck down Wisconsin’s law requiring voters to produce state-approved photo identification cards at polling places, advancing a new legal basis — the Voting Rights Act — for similar challenges playing out around the nation. Judge Lynn Adelman, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, found that the state’s 2011 law violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution as well as the Voting Rights Act, which bars states from imposing rules that abridge a citizen’s right to vote based on race or color. “I find that the plaintiffs have shown that the disproportionate impact of the photo ID requirement results from the interaction of the requirement with the effects of past or present discrimination,” Judge Adelman wrote in the decision. “Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. Individuals who live in poverty are less likely to drive or participate in other activities for which a photo ID may be required (such as banking, air travel, and international travel) and so they obtain fewer benefits from possession of a photo ID than do individuals who can afford to participate in these activities.”
In Wisconsin, the photo identification requirement approved by Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans who control the State Legislature was already delayed following rulings in state court. But Judge Adelman’s finding citing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, more often a factor in cases related to redistricting, is certain to draw note from those involved in other voter identification challenges, including cases brought by the Department of Justice in North Carolina and Texas, according to Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in election law.
Advocates of voter identification laws, who say that the provisions prevent potential fraud and promote public confidence in the voting process, have long looked to a 2008 United States Supreme Court decision on the matter in Indiana, where the law was upheld.
But opponents, who say the laws are really aimed at suppressing the turnout of Democrats, have been buoyed by a series of recent court rulings, including a state court finding in January striking down Pennsylvania’s law and another last week in Arkansas, which found the law there in violation of the state’s Constitution. The Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a temporary stay to a portion of that ruling, and has called for the submission of legal briefs on the question by Friday.