April 28, 2008
Supreme Court upholds Indiana voter ID law

This is a disappointment, but not a surprise.

The Supreme Court ruled today that states can require voters to produce photo identification without violating their constitutional rights, validating Republican-inspired voter ID laws.

In a splintered 6-3 ruling, the court upheld Indiana's strict photo ID requirement, which Democrats and civil rights groups said would deter poor, older and minority voters from casting ballots. Its backers said it was needed to prevent fraud.


The law "is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting 'the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,'" Justice John Paul Stevens said in an opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. Stevens was a dissenter in Bush v. Gore in 2000.

Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also agreed with the outcome, but wrote separately.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, just as they did in 2000.


The case concerned a state law, passed in 2005, that was backed by Republicans as a way to deter voter fraud. Democrats and civil rights groups opposed the law as unconstitutional and called it a thinly veiled effort to discourage elderly, poor and minority voters -- those most likely to lack proper ID and who tend to vote for Democrats.

There is little history in Indiana of either in-person voter fraud -- of the sort the law was designed to thwart -- or voters being inconvenienced by the law's requirements. For the overwhelming majority of voters, an Indiana driver license serves as the identification.

"We cannot conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters," Stevens said.

So you say. I respectfully disagree.

Indiana provides IDs free of charge to the poor and allows voters who lack photo ID to cast a provisional ballot and then show up within 10 days at their county courthouse to produce identification or otherwise attest to their identity.

Stevens said these provisions also help reduce the burden on people who lack driver's licenses.

While I agree that this mitigates the bad effects to some degree, I don't think it's sufficient. Moreover, what's the minimum requirement for a state that wants to pass a voter ID law to clear the not-too-burdensome hurdle? Does it have to try to distribute free IDs to people who don't have driver's licenses, or does it just have to make them available to those who can somehow travel to (say) a DPS field office to pick one up? Because I guarantee that when the Texas Lege tries again on this, it will do the very least it has to do to pass muster.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 28, 2008 to Show Business for Ugly People

Sorry, Charles, but I've got to disagree with you on this one.

This is a low and reasonable hurdle to ensure a level of reliability among the electorate. Yes, it requires some effort on the part of the voter and that's not a bad thing. You ask who will take people to DPS to pick up their free IDs, I'd ask "Why stop there?" Who will take people to vote? While frequently close to my residence, my polling place in the most recent election and the closest early voting locations are much further away than my nearest DPS office.

Posted by: Patrick on April 29, 2008 8:07 AM

but that's not the case for everyone. I can easily walk to my polling place but the nearest DPS office is several miles away.

Posted by: mark on April 29, 2008 9:25 AM

Patrick, I believe that when the government starts imposing burdens on certain classes of people, then what was once considered a right has in fact become a privilege. I believe voting is a right, and should be treated as such.

Having said that, if these voter ID laws ever addressed the issue of vote-by-mail fraud, which does actually occur, then I might be a bit less cynical. But until then, I see these laws as nothing but a naked attempt at partisan gain.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 29, 2008 9:36 AM

The Supreme Court has been pretty clear that partisan motives do not trigger any kind of constitutional scrutiny: Voter ID (a solution without a problem), congressional redistricting, etc.

I would be in favor of an amendment establishing a strong right to vote.

Posted by: Greg Morrow on April 29, 2008 1:24 PM