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Supreme Court Declines To Hear Challenge To Strict Wisconsin NPR

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“This is just one more development in the ongoing debate
about voter identification, but it is by no means the
last word,” the ACLU’s Dale Ho said. J.
Scott Applewhite/AP
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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

"This is just one more development in the ongoing debate about voter identification, but it is by no means the last word," the ACLU's Dale Ho said.

“This is just one more development in the ongoing debate
about voter identification, but it is by no means the
last word,” the ACLU’s Dale Ho said.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to hear a case
involving the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s strict voter ID
requirement shifts attention now to voter identification laws
working their way through the courts in Texas and North
Carolina.

As in Wisconsin, these laws are being challenged on the grounds
that they hurt minorities and other voters who are less likely
to have the required government-issued photo ID. It’s possible
— depending on what happens in the lower courts — that the
Supreme Court could be asked to weigh in on one or both of
these cases before the 2016 presidential election.

In the meantime, the Wisconsin law is now set to go into
effect, although the state’s attorney general, Brad Schimel,
said that won’t happen until after state elections are held
April 7.

“Absentee ballots are already in the hands of voters,
therefore, the law cannot be implemented for the April 7
election,” Schimel said in a statement issued shortly after the
Supreme Court’s announcement. “The Voter ID law will be in
place for future elections — this decision is final.”

Six states had a strict government-issued photo ID requirement
in effect last year, according to the National Conference of
State Legislatures. That does not include the Wisconsin, North
Carolina and Texas laws, which were not in effect. A few other
states, including Nevada, are also considering new voter ID
laws.

Wisconsin’s ID law has been the subject of litigation ever
since it was passed by the state’s Republican-controlled
Legislature in 2011. Proponents said the law was needed to
prevent voter fraud, although there has been little evidence of
voter impersonation at the polls.

Opponents argued that the law was unconstitutional because some
300,000 state voters lack a government-issued photo ID. A
federal judge agreed, but his decision was overturned by a
federal appeals court last October. The Supreme Court
temporarily blocked the law from going into effect, however,
amid concerns that voters in last November’s elections would be
confused by the last-minute change.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the
Wisconsin law, is now weighing its options, according to Dale
Ho, director of the group’s Voting Rights Project. The Supreme
Court’s refusal to hear the case merely allows the federal
appeals court ruling upholding the law to stand, Ho said.

“It doesn’t preclude future challenges to that law on the basis
of other legal theories, or challenges to particular aspects of
the law,” Ho told NPR. He noted, for example, that Veterans
Administration identification cards, which include photos, are
not allowed as acceptable forms of voter ID in Wisconsin —
indicating that might be one possible avenue for challenge.

“This is just one more development in the ongoing debate about
voter identification, but it is by no means the last word,” Ho
said. “The Supreme Court didn’t say that Wisconsin’s voter ID
law was constitutional or unconstitutional. It just declined to
take the case, which means that it’s still an open question in
the U.S. Supreme Court whether or not these kinds of very
strict ID laws violate federal law.”

That’s one reason he and others are closely watching what
happens next in Texas and North Carolina. A federal trial on
North Carolina’s law, which requires photo IDs in 2016, is
scheduled for this summer. A challenge to the Texas law is
pending before a federal appeals court.

But Rick Hasen, who studies election law at the University of
California Irvine School of Law, said that betting on the Texas
case to topple other state ID laws could be risky. He noted
that a trial judge found the Texas law unconstitutional, in
part, because it was enacted with the intention — as compared
to just having the effect — of discriminating against minority
voters.

Hasen added that if the high court ends up striking down the
Texas law for that reason, the decision might not have an
impact on laws, such as Wisconsin’s, where no intentional
discrimination has been found.

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