by Richard L. Hasen (UC Irvine School of Law)
Studio City, Calif. — Has the tide against restrictive voting laws turned?
In the last few weeks, voting rights groups, in some instances working with the Department of Justice, have posted a series of victories that seemed unlikely when their cases against these laws were first brought. The rights of hundreds of thousands of voters are at stake.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, perhaps the most conservative federal appeals court,ruled 9-6 last month that Texas’ strict voter identification law had a racially discriminatory effect on African-American and Latino voters. Not only did the Fifth Circuit send the case back to the trial court to establish a procedure to make it easier for those who lacked one of the narrow forms of identification to be able to vote, but also to decide if Texas had acted with racially discriminatory intent. Such a finding could lead the courts to put Texas back under direct federal supervision.
Last Friday, a Fourth Circuit panel ruled that a North Carolina voting law, possibly the largest rollback of voting rights since the 1965 Voting Rights Act, was enacted with racially discriminatory intent. The court threw out not only the state’s strict voter ID law, but also other voting restrictions that could make it especially hard for minorities to vote.
In the Seventh Circuit, a panel of conservative judgesgave a trial court permission to soften Wisconsin’s strict voter identification law. In response, the trial court recently issued an order giving people who lacked one of the few IDs accepted for voting in Wisconsin the chance to vote by filling out an affidavit of identity. Then last week another federal court threw out more of Wisconsin’s strict voting laws. On Monday, a federal court told North Dakota to soften its ID law, which adversely affected Native Americans......