In Wisconsin and Texas, Courts Deliver Victories for Voting Rights

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In Wisconsin and Texas, Courts Deliver Victories for Voting Rights

U.S. Supreme Court blocks Wisconsin voter ID law, while a federal trial court in Texas strikes down that state’s ID law

"Today's order puts the brakes on the last-minute disruption and voter chaos created by this law going into effect so close to the election," ACLU official says. (Photo: Mike Renlund/flickr/cc)

In a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday evening blocked Wisconsin from implementing a voter ID law that would have required voters to provide photo identification before casting their ballots in the coming election.

The Court, which recently allowed North Carolina officials to eliminate same-day voter registration and discount votes cast mistakenly in the wrong precincts, did not consider the merits of the Wisconsin case, but rather vacated a Seventh Circuit appeals court order from mid-September that allowed state officials to implement the law as the case proceeds through the courts.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would seek ways to reinstate the law, which Governor Scott Walker and fellow Republicans approved in 2011, within the month—in other words, before Election Day.

But critics of the law said it would create chaos because the state would not be able to train poll workers, inform voters, and distribute IDs to those who would need them to vote.

"Today's order puts the brakes on the last-minute disruption and voter chaos created by this law going into effect so close to the election," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "It will help safeguard the vote for thousands of Wisconsinites as this case makes its way through the courts."

Also Thursday, a federal trial court in Texas struck down that state’s ID law, saying it put a disproportionate burden on African American and Hispanic voters and calling the law an "unconstitutional poll tax."

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that the law—passed by Texas legislators, signed by Republican Governor Rick Perry, and decried as one of the strictest in the nation—took an "unorthodox" approach that legislators knew would have a disparate impact on minority voters. The law requires voters to produce government-issued identification before casting a ballot. Concealed handgun permits are accepted, while college student IDs are not.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is co-representing the plaintiffs in the case, called the ruling "momentous."

"Texas adopted its racially discriminatory photo ID law in response to the substantial and ongoing growth of Black and Latino communities in Texas," said Natasha M. Korgaonkar, who argued at the trial and is assistant counsel in the Political Participation Group of NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "This growth presented Texas with an important opportunity to welcome its rich diversity by expanding its electorate; Texas instead chose to intentionally erect one of the nation’s strictest photo ID laws to minimize the growing political power of voters of color in Texas. Fortunately, the Court’s ruling today prevented that result."

The Texas attorney general’s office quickly stated that it would appeal the decision.

A report released earlier this week showed voter ID laws are "intended to discourage voting," especially among young, new, and minority voters.

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