U.S. Supreme Court

Stevens Vote a Surprise in Voter ID Case


Some observers were surprised when liberal Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a lead opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday that upheld Indiana’s voter ID law.

Stevens, whose opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, wrote that the plaintiffs had not met the “heavy burden” needed for a facial challenge to the law, the New York Times reports. However, Stevens also acknowledged there was no evidence of voter fraud, the cited justification for the law, but said the risk of fraud was real.

Some experts speculated that Stevens wrote the opinion to keep Roberts and Kennedy from joining an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia’s concurring opinion said the law could be justified as a “generally applicable, nondiscriminatory voting regulation” and there was no need to examine the impact on voters. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Scalia’s opinion.

Besides Indiana, six states require voters to show a photo identification before voting. But Indiana’s law is regarded as the strictest, the Times story says. In most cases, its requirement for a federal or state ID can only be satisfied by a driver’s license or a passport. Other states accept additional documents such as student IDs and employee badges.

The decision left the door open to an as-applied challenge to voter ID laws. A separate Times story says the opinion is likely to lead to more laws and litigation. However, new laws were not expected to pass before the presidential election.

Civil rights leaders criticized the ruling, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the Washington Post reports. Democrats say the measure will make it more difficult for the poor and elderly to vote.

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