U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law Tuesday, finding the measure in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Yesterday’s ruling marks the first time a voter ID law has been defeated under this provision of the historic civil rights law. Judge Adelman ruled that the restrictive voter ID law, which threatened to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters in the state, burdens the right to vote for people of color.
The discriminatory law was challenged by civil rights organization Advancement Project and pro bono law firm Arnold & Porter LLP on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Wisconsin; Cross Lutheran Church; Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO; and Wisconsin League of Young Voters Education Fund. Lawyers and plaintiffs in the case will discuss the ruling in a media conference call today, April 30, at 11:00 a.m. ET / 10:00 a.m. CT (Call-in information below).
“Wisconsin has long been recognized as the Selma of the North, and this case illustrates just why the Midwestern state bears this harrowing distinction,” said Advancement Project Managing Director for Programs James Eichner. “Wisconsin’s discriminatory voter ID law is virtually indistinguishable from Jim Crow laws of earlier eras, which required poll taxes, property requirements, literacy tests and other contrived, racist measures designed to prevent African Americans from voting. We are encouraged the court concurred and took action to strike down Wisconsin’s voter ID law. For those who believe that in a democracy elections should be free, fair and accessible to all, this is a victory of monumental proportions.”
“The Voting Rights Act still has teeth,” said John Ulin, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP, who was trial counsel. “Yesterday’s decision confirms that elected officials cannot protect their interests by enacting laws that disproportionately prevent Blacks and Latinos from voting. We have come too far in this country to fight the battle for voting rights for people of color a second time. Our team owes a lot to senior citizen witnesses like Bettye Jones and Lorene Hutchins, who refused to be silent when the State of Wisconsin told them that, after decades of voting and political activity dating back to the 1940s, they would not be permitted to vote in 2012 because they did not possess valid Wisconsin photo identification. Sadly, neither Mrs. Jones nor Mrs. Hutchins lived to see this day, but their voices have been heard. This victory truly belongs to them.”
During the two-week trial last November, attorneys from Advancement Project and Arnold & Porter LLP showed that Wisconsin’s law excludes hundreds of thousands of eligible Wisconsin voters who do not have state-issued photo ID from voting, and that African-American and Latino voters disproportionately lack the ID needed to vote under the law. In order to obtain a state-issued ID, in most instances a voter must present a certified birth certificate – a process that can involve applying and paying for a Wisconsin birth certificate or, for those born outside Wisconsin, contacting government agencies in other states. For some voters, a birth certificate does not exist at all, particularly elderly African Americans who were born at home in the rural South at a time when it was not common practice to record Black births.
Further complicating matters in Wisconsin, the state’s DMV offices are only open on weekdays, and most do not offer evening hours. A quarter of DMV sites are open less than one day a month, and many voters lack transportation to get to these limited DMV offices. At trial, more than a dozen witnesses testified about their inability to obtain ID, or the extreme measures they were forced to take in order to get it.
In response to reports that the legislature might amend the law, Judge Adelman clarified that any such amendments would be highly suspect, stating that “given the evidence presented at trial showing that Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to lack an ID, it is difficult to see how an amendment to the photo ID requirement could remove its disproportionate racial impact and discriminatory result."
The order can be viewed in full here: http://www.advancementproject.org/page/-/esjt/files/resources/decision%20and%20order.pdf