By Ruth Conniff
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision Thursday night blocking Wisconsin's voter I.D. law, reversing the decision of the seventh circuit court of appeals, and allowing the November election to go forward without onerous new restrictions on voting rights.
The decision removes an enormous obstacle to voting for an estimated 300,000 Wisconsin voters who lack the necessary ID required by one of the most onerous voter ID laws in the nation.
"The application to vacate the September 12, 2014 order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted and the Seventh Circuit’s stay of the district court’s permanent injunction is vacated," the opinion states.
Groups challenging the voter ID law had appealed to Justice Elena Kagan to block the law.
"Permitting this law to go into effect so close to the election is fueling voter confusion and election chaos in Wisconsin," the ACLU's Dale Ho wrote, "particularly for the many voters who have already cast their ballots. Voters deserve a fair shake, and this last-minute disruption changes the rules of the game in an election that is already underway, and risks locking out thousands of voters. The stakes are extremely high."
Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas joined a dissent, writing that the Court could not vacate a stay unless a lower court "clearly and demonstrably erred" in the application of "accepted standards." Still, the dissenting justices acknowledged, "there is a colorable basis for the Court's decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election." And, the dissent conceded, "it is particularly troubling" that absentee ballots had been cast "without any notation that proof of photo identification must be submitted."
Before the Supreme Court's decision, the state had planned to discard absentee ballots without counting them if absentee voters did not produce photo ID after the fact.
Wisconsin's voter ID law was "one of the strictest in the nation," the appeal to the Supreme Court noted. Yet not a single instance of in-person voter fraud, which voter ID is intended to deter, has been charged in Wisconsin.
The seventh circuit's ruling, putting voter ID back into effect at the last minute "virtually guaranteed chaos at the polls and irreparable disenfranchisement of many thousands of registered Wisconsin voters," the appeal noted.
"On the other side of the ledger, the State made no factual showing at trial—and the panel made no mention—of any harm to the State from postponing implementation of the new voter ID law until after the election. The panel’s decision thus is “guarding against a problem”—in-person voter fraud—that Wisconsin 'does not have and has never had.' "
“While there is zero evidence of voter fraud, Wisconsin’s voter ID law would have risked disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of registered voters if it were allowed to take effect,” said Katherine Culliton-González, senior attorney for the Advancement Project, one of the groups that filed the petition for an emergency stay. “The Supreme Court was absolutely correct in refusing to fast-track restricting access to the ballot in the upcoming election. Voting is the one time when we are all equal. Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, Black, White, Latino, Asian or Native American – when we vote, we all have the same say. But this is not the end of the fight. We will keep working to ensure that this law is permanently enjoined, so that all voters can continue to have a voice in our democracy.”