WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday upheld Indiana's law requiring voters to present government-issued picture identification at the polls, validating Republican efforts to impose a law they say will cut down on voter fraud.
Its the highest-profile Republican v. Democrat case to reach the high court since the 2000 Bush v. Gore lawsuit that effectively decided that year's presidential race. This case doesn't have as much at stake but has still managed to inflame the passions of political partisans even during this primary season.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the 6-3 opinion, and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justice Antonin Scalia filed a concurring opinion joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Justice David Souter wrote the dissent joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Stephen Breyer filed his own dissent.
"There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the state's interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters," Stevens wrote, noting that the law doesn't impose "excessively burdensome requirements."
"Moreover, the interest in orderly administration and accurate recordkeeping provides a sufficient justification for carefully identifying all voters participating in the election process. While the most effective method of preventing election fraud may well be debatable, the propriety of doing so is perfectly clear," he wrote.
Souter wrote in his dissent: "The Indiana Voter ID Law is ... unconstitutional: the state interests fail to justify the practical limitations placed on the right to vote, and the law imposes an unreasonable and irrelevant burden on voters who are poor and old."
The 2005 law was passed on a party-line vote by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. Proponents argue the law is necessary to help prevent election fraud at the polls. Calling it the latest in a nationwide trend since the controversial Florida ballot counting in 2000, they argued the law effectively combats bloated voter registration lists that could be ripe for abuse.
"The Indiana Voter ID Law establishes reasonable, long-overdue election-security reform in a state highly vulnerable to in-person election fraud," the state's Solicitor General wrote to the Supreme Court.
Opponents, on the other hand, say the law has the potential to unfairly and illegally disfranchise 43,000 Indiana residents who do not or can not obtain a valid government issued identification card. They say this group primarily consists of senior citizens, the poor, homeless, disabled, minorities and people who live in the state's handful of urban areas.
They also question the necessity of the law, which they call the most draconian in the country, pointing out that at no point in Indiana's history has anyone been charged with fraud at an election poll. Its a law with no problem they argue. "The Legislature took no steps to curtail the problem which it actually had some evidence-absentee voting-related fraud," wrote lawyers for the petitioners in this case. The state contends such a history isn't necessary to justify the law.
Opponents also argued that the time and expense of getting a state ID is a daunting process and cite generalized examples of people who had problems working with the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles. But the state questions the legal standing of the petitioners and wonders how onerous can the law be if a major political party, two seasoned candidates and four substantial political-interest groups cannot find even one person injured by it.
Underlying the arguments in this case is the racial context that has raised the sensitivities of those mindful of past reform laws that were improperly used to prevent minorities groups from exercising their electoral rights. The petitioners write the history of voting in the United States is replete with examples of sinister efforts to disfranchise voters which were accepted by courts that refused to look behind the assertion of an innocent purpose. Joining this refrain in amicus briefs were the NAACP and a group of historians who liken the law to the notorious poll taxes.
In response, Indiana rejected any sinister motives behind the legislation. The Voter ID Law represents a reasonable, non-discriminatory exercise of Elections Clause authority that, just as the Founders envisioned, takes account of change in the situation of the country and advances the agenda of election modernization. To that final point, United States Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and Kit Bond, R-Mo., wrote a brief to the court in support of Indiana's law and how it comports with the Federal Help America Vote Act passed in 2002. Twenty-six Republican members of the House of Representatives also added their names to the brief.
The trial court consolidated the legal challenges and ruled the petitioners, including the Indiana Democratic Party, had standing to bring the case. But that court also determined the law was reasonable; finding that it did not create a severe burden on the right to vote. A divided Seventh Circuit affirmed the ruling concluding in part that because the number of people disfranchised by the law was small the states action was justified.
More than 20 states require some form of identification at the polls. Courts have upheld voter ID laws in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, but struck down Missouri's. Monday's decision comes a week before Indiana's presidential primary.
FOX News' Lee Ross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.