A flurry of last-minute court decisions is upending voting rules in key states less than a month before the midterm congressional elections. The Supreme Court on Thursday night blocked a restrictive voter ID law in Wisconsin after opponents said it would cause “chaos” at the polls and noted that ballot forms had already been sent out to voters that did not make clear they needed to provide identification. The brief order by Justice Elena Kagan overturned a September decision by an appellate court, over the opposition of conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Also on Thursday night, a lower federal trial court struck down a 2011 voter ID law in Texas with a scathing opinion determining that the statute, which was designed to combat voter fraud, “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”
The justices are more willing to stop restrictive ID laws than rules limiting when and where voters can cast their ballots.
The district court in Corpus Christi further ruled that the law “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.”
The pair of decisions represented a victory for advocates who have railed against voter ID laws for years on the grounds that they disproportionately affect minority citizens and are premised on a false notion that voter fraud is widespread. Democrats in particular have charged that Republican governors and state legislatures are enacting the laws to discourage a key part of their base from casting ballots.
The Wisconsin ruling could be particularly significant in the close race between Governor Scott Walker, a Republican seeking reelection, and Democrat Mary Burke. In Texas, the Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is heavily favored against Democrat Wendy Davis, and neither state has a competitive Senate race.