Monday, April 28, 2008

SCOTUS upholds GOP voter discrimantion scheme

Today the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision in the case of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The majority rendered a split opinion while upholding Indiana's voter-ID laws. The long and short of the issue is this. The state of Indiana passed a very restrictive law requiring all voters to show photo ID ostensibly to prevent voter fraud.

Sounds reasonable enough on the surface, right?

Well let's scratch a little bit and look at the details. In this day and age, who doesn't have a valid photo ID? You might be surprised but it turns out plenty of people don't. These people, it turns out, are also disproportionately non-white, poor and elderly. A study by the University of Washington (pdf) looked at the Indiana law and the state's demographics and determined the following,

  • 21.8% of black Indiana voters do not have access to a valid photo ID (compared to 15.8% of white Indiana voters - a 6 point gap).
  • When non-registered eligible voter responses are included - the gap widens. 28.3% of eligible black voters in the State of Indiana do not have valid photo ID (compared to 16.8% of eligible voting age white Indiana residents - a gap of 11.5 percent).
  • The study found what it termed “a curvilinear pattern (similar to an upside down U-curve)” in the relationship between age and access to valid ID - younger voters and older voters were both less likely to have valid ID compared to voters in the middle categories. 22% of voters 18-34 did not have ID, nor did 19.4% over the age of 70. (compared to 16.2% of Indiana voters age 35-54 without valid ID and 14.1% for 55-69 year olds).
  • 21% of Indiana registered voters with only a high school diploma did not have valid ID (compared to 11.5% of Indiana voters who have completed college - a gap of 9.5%).

And of course the real point of all of this -
  • Those with valid ID are much more likely to be Republicans than those who do not have valid ID. Among registered voters with proper ID, 41.6% are registered Republicans, 32.5% are Democrats.
Given these numbers surely the state of Indiana has demonstrated that rampant vote fraud has been occurring and that although an ID law will disproportionately affect certain voters (thus violating their 14th amendment right to equal protection) this law is needed to prevent such widespread fraud, right? That would be a reasonable conclusion but Indiana can demonstrate no such fraud. Literally none.

The majority opinion written by Stevens (and joined by Kennedy and Roberts) cited 3 examples of voter fraud. First, they cited fraud from Boss Tweed. Yes, Boss Tweed the infamous 19th century boss of New York City politics. They cite an instance from 1868 in support of the Indiana law - and, presumably, with a straight face too. Moving on from Tweed the next examples Stevens dismisses examples that the laws proponents had floated as not applicable as they involved instances of voter registration fraud and absentee ballot fraud, neither of which are addressed by this law. The only instance of actual voter fraud at the ballot that Stevens can cite is from the 2004 Washington state gubernatorial election and even there he can only cite the actions of a single individual not a pattern of any sort of widespread fraud. Finally Stevens moves to an example of vote fraud in the state of Indiana but that case involved an absentee ballot and Stevens himself concedes that the law doesn't apply to that case.

So here we have the state of Indiana passing a law that impedes with certain citizens right to vote in a disproportionate manner. Indiana cannot demonstrate a compelling government interest because they cannot demonstrate that any vote fraud of the kind they are seeking to legislate against has actually occurred. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law. In order for a government (be it city, state or federal) to violate a constitutional right they must demonstrate a compelling government interest - that is they must show some serious crime or harm to society as a whole is occurring. If you can't demonstrate that any of the harm that you are presuming to prevent has ever occurred you cannot demonstrate a compelling interest sufficient to over-ride the constitutional rights of the citizens.

Justice Souter in his dissent today,
a State may not burden the right to vote merely by invoking abstract interests, be they legitimate, see ante, at 7–13, or even compelling, but must make a particular, factual showing that threats to its interests outweigh the particular impediments it has imposed. The State has made no such justification here, and as to some aspects of its law, it has hardly even tried.

And yet a 6 to 3 majority of the United States Supreme Court allowed just that to happen today.

A Republican legislature passed a bill (and aRepublican governor signed it into law) that disproportionately effects the ability of minority, elderly and disabled voters (all of whom vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party) to exercise their right to vote based on completely fabricated reasoning and logic. This law is very clearly about vote suppression and nothing more. The Republican Party is actively pursuing a strategy to disenfranchise Democratic voters through bogus voter fraud laws. There's no other way to look at this. The type of fraud that this law was designed to prevent does not exist. It is that simple.

Stevens opinion has left the door open for future challenges to the law if an undue burden can be demonstrated. It's been speculated that Stevens joined with the majority in order to protect future claims as the Scalia-Alito-Thomas opinion is much more severe.

As infuriating as this decision may be the outrage is tempered somewhat because this outcome was entirely predictable. The current Court has shown little to no interest in finding for petitioners on the grounds of the equal protection clause.

Indeed the last prominent case where the Court sided with the petitioner on equal protection grounds was... wait for it... Bush v. Gore.

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