Federal judge says his photo ID ruling was wrong
Matt Pommer 
Newspaper Association

 A highly respected federal appeals court judge has cast a dark cloud on Republican efforts to make it harder to vote.

In a new book, Federal Judge Richard Posner said he made a mistake when he voted to uphold an Indiana law requiring a photo ID or other accepted means of identification in order to cast a ballot. Posner, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1981 and sits on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, is a widely respected jurist. His statements were stunning: judges seldom admit they made a mistake.

Posner wrote the Seventh Circuit majority opinion in “Crawford v. Marion County Election Board” in 2007; it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court the following year.

“I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion,” Posner wrote in his new book, “Reflections on Judging.” He said that the Indiana law in the Crawford case is “a type of law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”

Posner’s admission comes while a legal challenge to Wisconsin’s new voter-ID law is winding its way through the state courts. As was alleged in the Indiana case, Republicans here also use the claim that the voter-ID law is aimed at preventing fraud. Gov. Scott Walker has suggested that voter fraud is widespread in Wisconsin, contending at one point it could affect four percent of the electorate. Yet, there has been no evidence of widespread voting fraud.

The Wisconsin law is being challenged as a violation of the State Constitution’s strong suffrage provisions, rather than federal provisions. But the issue is the same.

Asked by a reporter whether his opinion was wrong, Posner was frank. “Yes,” he replied. “We weren’t really given strong indications that requiring additional voter ID would actually disenfranchise people entitled to vote.”

The late Terence Evans wrote the dissent in the Indiana case, and Posner said Evans was right. In the dissent Judge Evans wrote: “Let’s not beat around the bush: the Indiana voter-ID law is a not-too-thinly veiled attempt to discourage Election Day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.”

Republicans are counting on the conservative majority in the State Supreme Court to uphold Wisconsin’s voter-ID efforts. The four justices in that bloc were elected with conservative help, and it may be time to reward their election aid.

The voter-ID law is among steps taken to cement Republican control of state government. In the 2012 election Democrats won Wisconsin’s presidential electorate votes and got more votes than Republicans in legislative races. But it was the result of Gerrymandered legislative districts that resulted in GOP control of the Legislature.

A chorus of editorials across Wisconsin has urged the state change the way legislative districts are created, something that would next happen after the 2020 federal census. Republican leaders have rejected even the idea of holding hearings on reform legislation.

Republicans are stepping up their efforts to limit voting. Legislation is pending to shorten the hours for in-person absentee voting before an election. It would ban evening and weekend hours and limit the number of hours for such voting,

The legislation would seem to affect absentee voting in urban areas where it takes longer to get to municipal offices. Voting in large urban areas tends to skew to Democrats.

The non-partisan League of Women Voters said these measures would reduce voting opportunities for people with day jobs, child- or elderly-care commitments, or who travel regularly. “What have Wisconsin voters done to deserve another restrictive voting law?” asks League President Andrea Kaminski.

Capitol Newsletter Update: It should have been mentioned in an earlier column about the late U.S. Sen. Bill Proxmire that scientists successfully challenged a “Golden Fleece” attack by Proxmire against academic research.

Proxmire had rebuffed the scientists’ legal challenges in the lower courts but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed those decisions. To settle the case in 1980, Proxmire paid $10,000, court costs, and legal fees and issued apologies in a Senate speech and press releases.

Despite the legal setback, Proxmire two years later would win a fifth term in the U.S. Senate.

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