MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – A Wisconsin law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls does not violate the state’s constitution, an appeals court ruled, reversing a lower court’s injunction.
The 4th District Court of Appeals reversed an injunction barring implementation or enforcement of Wisconsin Act 23, which required voters in the 2012 presidential election to present government-issued photo ID to vote.
Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure into law in 2011.
The law faced legal challenges from the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network and its president, Melanie Ramey, and from the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP and the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera in a separate lawsuit.
In March 2012, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard G. Niess ruled for the League of Women Voters, saying the law was unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.
The state appeals court reversed that decision last week.
“We conclude only that the League has not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the photo identification requirement is, on its face, ‘so difficult and inconvenient as to amount to a denial’ of the right to vote,” the three-judge panel wrote in its 41-page opinion.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen called the ruling an “important step toward full vindication of the law,” but acknowledged that “other challenges are still pending that address different issues.”
“We will continue to defend the law and look forward to favorable decisions in those other cases as well,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
The appeals court ruled unanimously that the league failed to demonstrate how the voter ID law violates the constitution.
“The League has not shown that the photo identification requirement is on its face an ‘additional qualification’ for voting, as opposed to a voter registration regulation that allows election officials ‘to ascertain whether the person offering to vote possessed the qualifications required,'” wrote Judge Brian Blanchard, a former Democratic Dane County district attorney.
Blanchard said the league’s argument that the law is so restrictive that it effectively denies potential voters their right to vote “falls short,” because the league “does not rely on any fact finding or evidentiary material.”
He said the league already conceded “that the Legislature has implicit but broad constitutional authority to establish a voting registration system under which election officials may require potential voters to identify themselves as registered voters, including by requesting photo identification.”
The state also appealed a ruling by Dane County Judge David Flanagan, who invalidated the law in July after a trial in the NAACP case, now pending before the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Waukesha.
In a lengthy footnote, Blanchard noted the distinctions between the league’s case and the NAACP case. The NAACP and Voces de la Frontera “make arguments not made here,” Blanchard wrote.
“In particular, they argue that judicial review of Act 23 requires heightened scrutiny, and they appear to rely on due process and equal-protection-based arguments,” Blanchard wrote. “Plaintiffs there also make fact-based arguments that the League does not make here. For example, the plaintiffs in the District II case argue that they have demonstrated as a factual matter that enforcement of Act 23’s provisions would ‘severely burden a significant number of qualified voters but [are] not reasonably necessitated or designed to deter fraud or otherwise effect an important government interest.’ They assert that they have shown that ‘over 300,000 Wisconsin electors lack an acceptable photo ID’ and that ‘procuring a DMV Photo ID can be a frustrating, complex, and time-consuming process.’ In contrast, here the League relies on no such evidence on these topics and challenges the photo identification requirement only under Article III of the state constitution.'”
Last week’s ruling sends the case back to the trial court, but indicates that there could be a different outcome if the league presents more detailed evidence of the law’s burdens.
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