The Supreme Court Thursday night blocked Wisconsin from implementing a controversial voter ID law in next month’s election.
The justices vacated a decision by a panel of the appeals court in Chicago that ruled the law could go ahead. Three justices — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — dissented.
At the same time, a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s voter ID law. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said the law amounted to an “unconstitutional poll tax.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is also the Republican nominee for governor, said the state would immediately ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to overturn the ruling so that the law can be used for the coming election.
The Wisconsin voter ID law has been the subject of controversy and court challenges since it was first passed in 2011. Federal and state courts had enjoined its use until this year.
But challengers said that nearly 10 percent of Wisconsin voters did not have the photo ID the law required. The appeals court panel said it was still possible for those voters to get the necessary identification in time for the election.
The Supreme Court majority gave no reason for its decision. But one cause of concern was that some mail-in ballots had already been cast, and for them to count, the voter would have to show up later to produce the proper identification.
Alito mentioned that in dissenting.
“There is a colorable basis for the court’s decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election,” he wrote. “It is particularly troubling that absentee ballots have been sent out without any notation that proof of photo identification must be submitted.”
But he and the other dissenters said the Supreme Court’s precedents dictated that stays of appeal court decisions not be granted unless the lower court “clearly and demonstrably erred in its application of accepted standards.” The panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit had not done so, he said.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., whose department intervened on behalf of challengers of the laws, praised both of the courts’ rulings.
It was the third challenge to state election laws the court had decided on an emergency basis. By a 5-to-4 vote, it upheld a change in Ohio law that shortened the period for early voting, over the objections of groups that said it would hurt minority participation.
By a 7-to-2 vote, the court Wednesday let North Carolina go through with two similarly challenged changes in its laws — doing away with same-day registration and voting, and refusing to count ballots mistakenly cast in the wrong precinct.