October 18, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Judge Blocks New Photo ID Requirements for November 8 Elections, Says Plaintiffs have a "Substantial Likelihood" of Succeeding in Court

ATLANTA - In a major victory for Georgia voters, a federal judge today blocked a controversial new law that dramatically restricts the types of photo identification that may be used when voting. The decision is in effect while a legal challenge to the law, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of voting rights advocates, continues.

"We are pleased by the court's decision today. We have always known that this law unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote for thousands of properly registered Georgia voters," said Meredith Bell-Platts, a staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta. "This decision is especially important for those Georgians who would have been turned away from the polls all across the state on November 8."

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In granting the preliminary injunction, the court held - among other things - that the plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits of their claims that the photo ID requirement is an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote and constitutes a poll tax.

In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy wrote that, "In reaching this conclusion, the Court observes that it has great respect for the Georgia legislature. The Court, however, simply has more respect for the Constitution."

The ACLU and a consortium of voting rights advocates and private attorneys originally filed suit challenging Georgia's photo ID law (H.B. 244) on September 19, 2005, in federal district court in Rome, Georgia. The lawsuit was filed against state and local election officials and asked the federal court to declare H.B. 244 "unconstitutional, null and void," and issue both a preliminary and permanent injunction against implementation of the law. The measure being challenged reduces the various forms of identification that voters can use from 17 to six, and makes government issued photo identification absolutely required in order to vote.

In the complaint, attorneys charge that H.B. 244:

  • violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it treats voters unequally;
  • violates the Twenty-Fourth Amendment because it constitutes a poll tax on the right to vote;
  • violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act because it results in the denial of voting rights to African American and Latino voters;
  • violates the Georgia Constitution because it creates an entirely new set of voting qualifications beyond those specified in the state constitution; and
  • violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it applies different standards for voters who vote in person compared to those who vote by absentee ballot and disqualifies voters based solely on whether they have a government-issued photo ID, even if they are personally known to election officials, or their signatures match the one on their official voter registration card.

"We look forward to litigating the remainder of this case to secure a final judgment that the law is unconstitutional, violates the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Georgia Constitution," Bell-Platts said.

The case is Common Cause/Georgia v. Billups.

Click here for a copy of today's decision >>

 

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