Two weeks ago, Richard Posner, one of the most respected and iconoclastic federal judges in the country, startled the legal world by publicly stating that he’d made a mistake in voting to uphold a 2005 voter-ID law out of Indiana, and that if he had properly understood the abuse of such laws, the case “would have been decided differently.” For the past ten days, the debate over Judge Posner’s comments has raged on, even drawing a response from a former Supreme Court justice. The law in question requires voters to show a photo ID at the polls as a means of preventing voter fraud. Opponents sued, saying it would disenfranchise those Indianans without photo IDs — most of whom were poor, elderly, or minorities. State officials said the law was necessary, even though no one had ever been prosecuted for voter fraud in Indiana.
Judge Posner claimed, during an Oct. 11 interview with HuffPost Live, that at the time of the ruling, he “did not have enough information … about the abuse of voter identification laws” to strike down the Indiana statute. But he also said the dissenting judge on the panel, Terence Evans, had gotten it “right” when he wrote that the law was “a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout” by certain voters who tended to vote Democratic. (It was passed on a straight party-line vote by a Republican-controlled legislature.)
Last Thursday, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens sounded several of the same notes, telling the Wall Street Journal that while he “isn’t a fan of voter ID,” his own 2008 opinion upholding Judge Posner’s ruling was correct — given the information available at the time. Incidentally, Justice David Souter dissented for roughly the same reasons as Judge Evans, and Justice Stevens now says that “as a matter of history,” Justice Souter “was dead right.”
But all the judges had the same record in front of them at the time. So what information did the dissenters rely on that Judge Posner and Justice Stevens did not? That’s the question raised in a smart critique by Paul M. Smith, who argued the plaintiffs’ case before the Supreme Court.
Full Article: The Debate Over Judge Posner’s Unforced Error – NYTimes.com.