Or maybe not such a surprise after all. The path to today’s Supreme Court decision to refuse an appeal by the ACLU against Wisconsin’s voter-ID law has been strewn with appellate decisions that supported its implementation, although a last-minute stay by SCOTUS kept it out of play for the midterms. The law will fully take effect for the 2016 election, which may complicate efforts by Democrats to keep the state blue:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left intact a new Republican-backed law in Wisconsin that requires voters to present photo identification when they cast ballots.
The court declined to hear an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law. …
A federal judge blocked the state’s voter ID law in March 2012 soon after it took effect and entered a permanent injunction in April, finding the measure would deter or prevent a substantial number of voters who lack photo identification from casting ballots, and place an unnecessary burden on the poor and minorities.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the decision and subsequently ruled in October that the law was constitutional. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court upheld the voter ID law in a separate ruling.
The SCOTUS stay in October had more to do with the timing of the law, thanks to the scheduling of the challenges through the courts. Regardless, the election still went in favor of Scott Walker and the GOP, preventing Democrats from repealing the voter-ID provision before it could come into effect.
This will put a huge dent in the Obama administration’s efforts to squelch voter-ID laws in other states. In order to grant certiorari, the ACLU would have needed four justices to vote to add it to the docket. The fact that they couldn’t even move the liberal wing to unite against a voter-ID law shows that the justices consider the issue settled. Requirements for identification at polling stations are legitimate, in the eyes of the court, as long as enough options for no-cost qualifying ID exist to keep the poor from being disenfranchised.
The dismissal of this challenge to the law will also help boost Walker’s efforts outside of Wisconsin. He’s known for reforming the public-employee unions, balancing the budget, and most recently for signing Right to Work legislation even if he advised the Republican-controlled legislature to move more slowly on the latter. Some forget that Walker backed the voter-ID legislation as part of his reform package that got him elected in 2010, and then reconfirmed in 2012 and re-elected again in 2014. It gives Walker an argument to position himself as the reformer who has a real track record of conservative change in a purple state, change that could turn the state red for good.
However, the Supreme Court decision isn’t keeping the ACLU from demanding yet another delay, on the same basis as the last one:
The Wisconsin state elections board says it is awaiting direction from the state Department of Justice about what comes next now that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to the state’s voter identification law.
The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal appeals court to block implementation of the law for the April 7 election.
If the ACLU gets its waiver, it had better enjoy it — because it will be its last.
Update: It’s more accurate to say that the refusal to grant cert in this case upholds the law rather than approves it, although functionally it’s the same thing. I’ve changed the headline from “approves” to “upholds.”