A recent defeat in Tennessee Supreme Court ended any chance that photo identification cards issued by the Memphis Public Library can be used as voter ID—at least for now. But Memphis City Attorney Herman Morris says the yearlong legal battle produced at least one significant victory, and hinted at future challenges to the state law. Meanwhile, Memphis will continue to distribute library cards bearing photo IDs, an innovation that remains popular with patrons some 16 months after they first became available to residents. About 7,300 have been issued to date, Director of Libraries Keenon McCloy told LJ this week, and demand for them remains steady. The cards were created in in July 2012, shortly after Tennessee began requiring photo ID to vote. And while the cards were not expressly created to serve as voter ID, Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton was convinced they could and should serve that function, as well as others. “It’s a good idea, period,” Morris said of the cards, which debuted in August 2012. “It in fact was a need.”
But those library cards will no longer grant Memphis residents access to the voting booth, as they did for the 2012 presidential elections, after a tangled court fight was well under way. That fight has concluded with a defeat for the city.
On Oct. 17, the state Supreme Court upheld the Tennessee Voter Identification Act. The four-judge panel unanimously agreed the law did not place an undue burden on residents lacking a driver’s license, or other forms of picture ID issued by the state or federal government. The finding came in response to a suit filed by the City of Memphis and two registered voters, who argued the library cards were both valid and necessary as voter ID.
“We are pleased but not surprised by this decision,” Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in a statement to LJ this week. “At the same time, we are not interested in spiking the football.”