The Supreme Court held oral arguments in two separate cases over the state’s voter ID law Wednesday, with two conservative judges questioning the law.
The law requires a current state driver’s license, military ID or Wisconsin state ID card to be able to vote, but it was not in place during the 2012 recall and general elections because two Dane County judges issued injunctions to block the law.
Although an appeals court overturned one of those decisions, one judge’s block on the law remains. The Supreme Court decided to bypass the appeals court process on the other decision and take up both cases at the same time.
Justice Patience Roggensack said during oral arguments she was concerned people need birth certificates to obtain the free IDs. Because some people may not have a birth certificate, they would have to pay $20 to get one.
“I’m troubled by having to pay the state to vote,” she said.
Roggensack’s comment could point to the likelihood that the high court will strike down the law, David Canon, a University of Wisconsin political science professor, said.
“One of the conservative justices, who normally would be more politically on the side of upholding a law like this, expressed some real skepticism about the financial burden placed on voters who had to buy the documentation necessary to get an ID,” Canon said.
UW political science professor Barry Burden said he could see the Supreme Court ruling either way, although he agreed that some of the skepticism from two conservatives, Roggensack and Justice David Prosser, could lead to the court striking down the law.
One lawsuit comes from the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the other from the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP and immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera.
While the two lawsuits were brought forward to argue against voter ID laws, the two groups challenged the law on separate grounds. The league argued in court the Legislature did not have the power to require voter ID, while the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera argued that the law itself was unconstitutional.
“There is no evidence of any voter fraud that has occurred that would have been prevented with Photo ID,” Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz said in a statement. “Yet there is clear evidence — not abstract, but clear — in the lives of the many people who have experienced the burden and costs of trying to meet this impossible new standard, which is amongst the strictest in the country.”
Milwaukee NAACP President James Hall said the voter ID law is a form of voter suppression and the right to vote ios the most fundamental right in a democracy.
“Now, in the 21st century, the ugly tactic of voter suppression has been again put forth in an effort to undermine the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of minority and low-income workers who would be disproportionately impacted by the law,” Hall said.
But Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen defended the law in a statement, saying it ensures election integrity.
“Wisconsin’s photo identification law is a common-sense law that helps voters prove their identity at the ballot box,” Van Hollen said. “Wisconsin’s law protects the integrity of our elections and promotes confidence in electoral outcomes. It is constitutional, and I am hopeful that the law will be in place for the 2014 elections.”
The law also has the backing of Gov. Scott Walker, who said in a statement when he signed the law in 2011 that he was “thrilled to sign legislation [that] will go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin.”
A federal court held a trial in November on two other challenges to the law.
The Assembly also approved a new voter ID bill last year, although the Senate has not yet signed off on that legislation.