At a Federalist Society event in Washington D.C. last November, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called 7th Circuit Judge Diane Sykes “one of our favorite jurists,” and joked about appointing her to the U.S. Supreme Court if elected president. During Friday’s hearing on Wisconsin’s blocked voter ID law, Sykes didn’t disappoint. “We are on the eve of an election,” Sykes said, indicating that she would like to immediately put one of Walker’s signature pieces of legislation in place for November’s vote. “No court has ever allowed voter ID to got into effect this close to an election,” replied NAACP attorney Dale Ho, “even courts that have ultimately upheld” voter ID. Hours after argument wrapped, Sykes and the two other Republican judges on the panel made history, and ordered Wisconsin’s restrictive voter ID law to take effect immediately. The case came to the 7th Circuit from an appeal of district court Judge Lynn Adelman’s decision in April striking down Wisconsin’s voter ID law as violative of the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other groups had filed the challenge to Wisconsin’s restrictive voter ID law, and presented evidence that 300,000 Wisconsin citizens without ID faced disenfranchisement, a disporpionate number of whom were people of color. The Wisconsin Department of Justice defended the law, but Walker’s chief legal counsel, Brian Hagedorn, sat with the state’s Assistant Attorneys General in the courtroom on Friday.
Sykes, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice appointed to the 7th Circuit by President George W. Bush, heard the appeal along with two other Republican appointees, Judges Frank Easterbook and John Tinder. The appellate judges were randomly selected for the case, but their assignment was a serendipitous roll of the dice for Walker and the state’s voter ID supporters. Regardless of which judges were assigned to the case, the outcome of the appeal was not a foregone conclusion, since Judge Adelman’s landmark ruling from April broke new legal ground.