Friday, September 12, 2014 9:31 PM GMT
CHICAGO (AP) — A federal appeals court in Chicago reinstated Wisconsin's voter photo identification law on Friday, just hours after three judges heard arguments on reactivating the hotly debated law in time for the November election.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman struck the law down as unconstitutional in April, saying it unfairly burdens poor and minority voters who may lack such identification. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to overturn that ruling.
In a brief order, the three-judge panel in Chicago said, "The State of Wisconsin may, if it wishes (and if it is appropriate under rules of state law), enforce the photo ID requirement in this November's elections. The appeals remain under advisement, and an opinion on the merits will issue in due course."
During an hour long hearing, the panel sounded skeptical about depictions of the law as discriminatory.
Under the 2011 measure, those arriving at polling stations must produce a government-issued ID with a photo to vote. Because of legal challenges, the requirement had not been enforced since the February 2012 primary.
Similar disputes have arisen in nearly a dozen other states, including Pennsylvania and Texas. Republicans who back voter ID laws say they're designed to combat voter fraud. Critics say they're crafted to keep Democratic-leaning constituencies — such as minorities and poor people — from voting.
At Friday's hearing, Assistant Wisconsin Attorney General Clayton Kawski countered the charge that the law is discriminatory.
"This law makes common sense," he said. "When I entered the courthouse today, I had to show a photo ID."
If photo IDs are required for getting into some buildings or onto a plane, Kawski suggested, they should be required for something far more important — an election.
But an attorney for civil rights groups said there's no proof of any notable election fraud in Wisconsin. John Ulin shot back at proponents who say the law would engender voter confidence saying, "The law achieves the opposite effect."
Judge Frank Easterbrook cited figures that 2.4 percent of whites in Wisconsin can't obtain the needed ID to vote, while 4.5 percent of blacks can't. He asked whether that 2 percent gap between whites and blacks makes the law discriminatory. "The answer to your question is that it can and, in this case, it does," Ulin responded.
The judge who issued a permanent injunction against the law in April, Adelman, found that 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin didn't have the proper ID. Adelman noted the 2010 gubernatorial race was decided by about 125,000 votes.
Judge Diane Sykes said during Friday's hearing that she wondered about the power bestowed on bureaucrats in Wisconsin's Division of Motor Vehicles in deciding if someone had the right papers to qualify for a driver's license.
The third judge on Friday's panel was Judge John Tinder.