Federal Court Strikes Down Wisconsin Voter ID Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Wisconsin
April 29, 2014 12:00 am

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ACLU of Wisconsin
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ACLU represented plaintiffs at trial in November

April 29, 2014

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MILWAUKEE — A federal court today struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law as unconstitutional and in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the law on behalf of numerous Wisconsin voters, charging the measure violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and Dechert LLP argued the case at trial in November. It was the first federal trial under the VRA since the Supreme Court struck down part of the law last summer, and among just a handful of cases to challenge voter ID under VRA’s Section 2, which bans voting practices that have a disparate negative impact on racial minorities.

“This law had robbed many Wisconsin citizens of their right to vote. Today, the court made it clear those discriminatory actions cannot stand,” said Karyn Rotker, ACLU of Wisconsin senior staff attorney.

“This is a warning to other states that are trying to make it harder for citizens to vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This decision put them on notice that they can’t tamper with citizens’ fundamental right to cast a ballot. The people, and our democracy, deserve and demand better.”

In 2011, Wisconsin passed the law requiring photo ID in order to vote. Securing an ID requires a birth certificate, which many people do not have.

Among the plaintiffs is Shirley Brown, an African-American woman in her 70s who was born at home in Louisiana and never had a birth certificate. Brown, who had voted in Wisconsin for decades, was denied an ID because she did not have a birth certificate. DMV rejected a statement from her elementary school attesting to her birth, even though Medicare accepted the statement. Another voter, Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., was unable to get ID because his birth certificate read “Eddie Junior Holloway” instead of “Eddie Lee Holloway Junior.” The court recognized that these and many other voters would be harmed by the law.

At trial, the ACLU presented evidence showing that hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites lacked ID, that racial minorities were far more likely to lack ID and the documents needed to get ID than whites, and that the government does almost nothing to help people get ID, such as providing transportation or helping people obtain birth certificates.

The ACLU argued the law also burdened the elderly, students, people with disabilities, and low-income and homeless voters. Many photo ID alternatives were excluded under the law, including veteran ID cards.

“The federal court was correct to strike down this law,” said Jeremy Rosen, policy director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “All Wisconsin citizens have the right to vote — regardless of their race, where they live or how much money they make.”

The lawsuit, Frank v. Walker, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

“This is a great day for the people of Wisconsin,” said Neil Steiner of Dechert LLP.

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