Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
For the second time in two weeks, a Wisconsin judge has ruled against the highly restrictive voter ID law that Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature rammed through in 2011.
Last week, Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan granted a temporary injunction against the law.
And on Monday, another Dane County circuit judge, Richard Niess, in a scathing opinion, issued a permanent injunction.
“The legislature and governor have exceeded their constitutional authority,” he wrote. The “photo ID requirements are unconstitutional because they abridge the right to vote. Regulation may not deny the right of suffrage, either directly or indirectly. This has been the law of Wisconsin since its birth.”
Citing the Wisconsin state constitution and several state supreme court rulings flowing from it, Niess declared the voter ID law, Act 23, unconstitutional and enjoined the Walker administration “from any further implementation or enforcement” of it.
He noted that the law would have a discriminatory result on several disadvantaged groups of voters. “Mostly they would consist of those struggling souls who, unlike the vast majority of Wisconsin voters, for whatever reason will lack the financial, physical, mental, or emotional resources to comply with Act 23, but are otherwise constitutionally entitled to vote,” he wrote. “The right to vote belongs to all Wisconsin citizens who are qualified electors, not just the fortunate majority for whom Act 23 poses little obstacle at the polls.”
Judge Niess acknowledged that the government could take action to prevent voter fraud. But, he said, “Voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression. Indeed, they are two heads on the same monster.”
And he had a stark warning for our democracy if such voter ID laws are allowed to stand.
“A government that undermines the very foundation of its existence—the people’s inherent, pre-constitutional right to vote—imperils its legitimacy as a government by the people, for the people, and especially of the people. It sows the seeds for its own demise as a democratic institution.”
The case was brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, which said it was “delighted” by the “strong ruling.”
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