This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter identification law on Monday by a 6-3 vote that avoided the normal ideological divisions. The decision won't revive Missouri's voter ID law, however, because the 2006 decision striking down that law was based on state, not federal constitutional grounds.
Justice John Paul Stevens joined Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Anthony M. Kennedy in the controlling decision. The court said that "even handed restrictions" that protect the "integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself" satisfy the U.S. Constitution. The Indiana law requiring photo IDs is clearly related to Indiana's valid interest in protecting against voter fraud that could undermine the electoral process.
Republican supporters of photo IDs were reported on Monday to be planning a new effort at passing a photo ID requirement in Missouri. The AP reported that Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Clinton, would try next year to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot. A simple statute would not be able to change a state Supreme Court interpretation of the state constitution.
Stevens noted that the lower court judge who denied the challenge to the law had cited examples of voter fraud from around the nation, including examples from Missouri and St. Louis. Stevens acknowledged that there was no evidence of voter fraud in Indiana and that the examples from around the country often were overstated. Still, he wrote, "there is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the State's interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters."
The court decided it did not matter that partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the voter ID law. As long as there is a "valid neutral justification for a nondiscriminatory law," the coexistence of partisanship is constitutionally irrelevant.
The court's decision applied to "facial" challenges to the Indiana law. A facial challenge requires proof that the law is unconstitutional in all its applications. It still will be possible for a voter who has been denied the right to vote to file an "as applied" challenge, but that will be hard to win. This is particularly true because those who don't have a photo ID still can cast a provisional ballot that can be counted after election day - a point that Stevens thought was significant.
Stevens and Roberts often are on opposite sides of sharply divided cases. Their agreement on the Indiana case makes the decision appear less political. None of the justices mentioned Bush vs. Gore, the election law decision that decided the 2000 presidential election.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. agreed with the Indiana result but would have rejected the challenge out of hand. They said that the burden of the law was minimal and therefore the courts should have been deferential to the legislature.
Dissenting were Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Souter noted that "tens of thousands of voting age residents" lack the necessary photo ID and that a "large portion of them are likely to be in bad shape economically." There is no reason to doubt, he said, that some of them will be unable to vote as a result of the law.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision is an interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the federal Constitution. It does not affect the Missouri Supreme Court's interpretation of the state constitution in the 2006 decision striking down Missouri's law. In that decision, the state court said Missouri's voter ID law violated the state promise of equal protection and the state constitution's guarantee of the right to vote. The court pointed out that the state constitution "provides more expansive and concrete protection of the right to vote than the federal constitution."
The Missouri court agreed that protecting the voting process was a state interest of the highest order. But it said the photo ID law was not narrowly tailored to meet that interest because it would not stop fraud in absentee voting or voter registration - the only voter fraud identified in Missouri.