High Court Upholds Indiana Law On Voter ID

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that states may require voters to present photo identification before casting ballots, opening the way for wider adoption of a measure that Republicans say combats fraud and Democrats say discourages voting among the elderly and the poor.

The court ruled 6 to 3 that the requirements enacted by Indiana's legislature were not enough of a burden to violate the Constitution. Because the law, which requires specific government-issued identification such as driver's licenses or passports, is generally regarded as the nation's strictest such measure, the ruling bodes well for other states that require photo ID and for states that are considering doing so.

The widely awaited election-year case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, was the most sharply partisan voting rights issue the court has considered since Bush v. Gore decided the 2000 presidential election.

But the divisive nature of the 2000 decision was diminished yesterday, as the usually liberal Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the main opinion and said the state law is a reasonable reaction to the threat of voter fraud.

"The application of the statute to the vast majority of Indiana voters is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process," he wrote. His opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is normally on the right, and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is often considered a swing vote.

The opinion left open the possibility that voters who had proof that they were adversely affected by such laws could petition the courts, but made it clear that it would be difficult for them to prevail.

Three conservative justices -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. -- agreed with the outcome but would have closed the door more tightly against future challenges.

Three liberal justices -- David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer -- dissented.

"Indiana's 'Voter ID Law' threatens to impose nontrivial burdens on the voting right of tens of thousands of the state's citizens and a significant percentage of those individuals are likely to be deterred from voting," wrote Souter, whose opinion was joined by Ginsburg. Breyer filed a separate dissent.

Requiring a photo identification strikes many supporters of the law as common sense, because using it to gain entry to government buildings and airport gates has become so routine. States with Republican-majority legislatures that are adopting such requirements say they are doing so as a way to combat voter fraud and protect the integrity of elections.

But Democrats and civil rights groups say that millions of Americans lack the type of identification that Indiana requires, and that such laws discourage or even disenfranchise people who are least likely to have driver's licenses or passports: the poor, the elderly, the disabled and urban dwellers.

When the law was upheld by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, the dissenting Democratic-appointed judge called it a "not-too-thinly veiled attempt" to discourage voters who skew Democratic.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company