A stunning reversal by the judge who wrote the key opinion upholding voter ID laws has given new ammunition to opponents of the laws passed or strengthened by Republican governors and legislatures in more than a dozen states, including Texas. Judge Richard Posner, a veteran member of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, made the reversal in a single sentence of his new book, Reflections on Judging, declaring such laws are “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression, rather than fraud protection. I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion, (affirmed by the Supreme Court) upholding Indiana’s requirement that prospective voters prove their identity with a photo ID,” wrote Posner, a Reagan appointee on the Chicago-based appeals court, who said last year, “I’ve become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy.” Subsequently, in a video interview with the Huffington Post, he said his majority opinion in the court’s 2-1 decision was “absolutely” wrong. Seemingly blaming lawyers opposing the law, he said, in 2007, “we weren’t really given strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disenfranchise people entitled to vote.”
Posner’s reversal bolsters critics, like the Obama administration and minority groups, who contend the primary agenda behind such laws was political. Advocates generally claimed they sought to prevent voter fraud, though there has been scant evidence it is a major problem.
In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott, now seeking the Republican nomination for governor, cited the Indiana ruling in an interview last month as evidence of the need to combat voter fraud, though photo identifications would have affected only four of the 66 cases his office has prosecuted since 2004.
This fall, in the first Texas elections since the Supreme Court allowed its law to take effect, the primary focus has been on problems facing women using maiden or hyphenated names. The court threw out the Voting Rights Act requirement that Texas and eight other states get pre-clearance from the Justice Department that their laws contained no discriminatory provisions.