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In a decision released today, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law, saying that it disproportionately impacted poor and minority voters, and blocked the state from requiring ID at the polls.

In Frank v. Walker, Adelman wrote:

Act 23 has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters because it is more likely to burden those voters with the costs of obtaining a photo ID that they would not otherwise obtain. This burden is significant not only because it is likely to deter Blacks and Latinos from voting even if they could obtain IDs without much difficulty, but also because Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to have difficulty obtaining IDs. This disproportionate impact is a “discriminatory result” because the reason Black and Latino voters are more likely to have to incur the costs of obtaining IDs is that they are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, and the reason Black and Latino voters are disproportionately likely to live in poverty is connected to the history of discrimination against Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Finally, Act 23 only tenuously serves the state’s interest in preventing voter fraud and protecting the integrity of the electoral process, and therefore the state’s interests do not justify the discriminatory result. Accordingly, the photo ID requirement results in the denial or abridgment of the right of Black and Latino citizens to vote on account of race or color.

Read the full decision here.

 

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This morning’s Greensboro News & Record is spot on in an editorial regarding the efforts of Republican lawmakers to keep communications related to the monster voting law secret. Here’s the conclusion:

“Just as literacy tests were really intended, not to make sure voters could read, but to limit voting by blacks, so might similar motives underlie newer forms of voting restrictions. Since federal courts have jurisdiction over state voting laws, they can compel the release of evidence that otherwise might be protected by legislative immunity. Many of the documents sought are communications between legislators and outside parties that normally would be considered public under the state’s open records law. Greater protection can be allowed for communications between legislators and their lawyers or those circulated only among legislators and their staffs.

The judge directed plaintiffs and defendants to confer in more detail about specific documents and issue a status report. A final decision will follow eventually — the case isn’t scheduled to go to trial until next year — but [Judge] Peake indicated she will order legislators to turn over at least some of the documents requested.

The way to get to the truth of the matter is to see what legislators were saying among themselves about the new voting laws.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

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Voter IDThe battle over the disclosure of information relating to the passage of controversial voting law changes last summer continues in federal court, as state lawmakers yesterday filed an objection to a magistrate’s  order requiring them to produce at least some documents they’d claimed were absolutely protected under the doctrines of legislative immunity and legislative privilege.

In that order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake  adopted a flexible approach, finding that at a minimum, certain documents — communications with constituents or other third-parties, for example  — were not protected and should be produced, and that other documents might likewise have to be disclosed if the need for them in the voting rights context outweighed any intrusion on the legislative process.

That’s an approach that courts elsewhere have adopted — in Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, for example — weighing the need of legislators to be free from harassing questions about their decision-making processes with the needs of citizens suspicious of those lawmakers’ motives – and in the end, ordering the disclosure of at least some information.

“This is a place where courts have rarely spoken, but clearly the concern that legislative officials might not be acting with the best interests of their public in mind has caused this issue to arise more frequently,” said Justin Levitt, a voting law expert and professor at Loyola Law School.

The lawmakers’ objection means that disclosure of their documents will be further delayed as U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who is presiding over the three cases pending in Winston-Salem,  reviews the magistrate’s ruling and affirms, overrules or modifies its terms.

The court has been pushing the parties in the cases to hasten the disclosure of information with a view towards the filing of papers seeking to delay implementation of the voting changes so that, at least during the upcoming November elections, voters will maintain the full range of voting options they previously had — extended early voting and same-day registration, for example.

Those papers are tentatively scheduled for filing in May, with a hearing to be held some time in July.

 

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Voter-ID-signToday’s Winston-Salem Journal makes clear one again what advocates for open government have been saying for a long time: state lawmakers ought to be allowed behind absurd claims of privacy and immunity when it comes to the records of their communications as they went about the business of passing the nation’s most restrictive voting law. As the new editorial aptly notes:

“It’s bad enough that our politicians choose their own voters through their redistricting monopoly, but last year the General Assembly passed a so-called ‘voter identification’ bill that will clearly suppress who among us even gets to vote. Read More

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Voter IDAttorneys in the voting rights cases will be back in federal court in Winston-Salem tomorrow morning, asking U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder to order that state lawmakers must release e-mail and other communications related to the passage of North Carolina’s sweeping voter suppression law. Lawmakers have so far refused to do so, citing “legislative immunity.”

“What exactly are they hiding?” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “North Carolinians have a right to know the thinking and motivation behind lawmakers’ decision to make it harder for them to vote. Instead, legislators are concealing their intentions and cloaking their process in secrecy. The people deserve better.”

The state NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Justice Department filed separate lawsuits in federal court in Greensboro shortly after Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 589, contending that the new law’s voter ID and other provisions violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The court has since consolidated those actions and set them for trial in summer 2015, but the judge has indicated that he will consider suspending the voting changes for the November 2014 elections.

The parties are now knee-deep in the discovery process, and in December plaintiffs subpoenaed several GOP lawmakers, asking them to produce documents they received or sent relating to the voting changes ultimately passed by the General Assembly.

Among the documents sought are communications with constituents, state agencies, lobbyists and political organizations regarding the reasons for voting law changes; studies and reports on voter fraud, race and ethnicity of voters; and analyses of costs associated with administering the new provisions.

State lawmakers’ files may be one of the few sources of proof for plaintiffs hoping to prove that those legislators had a discriminatory purpose in enacting House Bill 589 – a critical element in proving plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and in obtaining future preclearance relief under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

Emails disclosed in the 2011 Texas redistricting battle, for example, revealed that lawmakers there contemplated drawing voting lines in a way that might diminish the Hispanic vote.

But legislators here have asked the court to quash the subpoenas, claiming that they are completely protected from suit by virtue of the doctrine of “legislative immunity,” which, they say, “encompasses all aspects of the legislative process and forbids plaintiffs from seeking any production at all from the legislative movants.”

Read more about the cases, and the dispute before the court tomorrow here.