Second Dane County Judge Enjoins Voter ID Law

For the second time in a week a Dane County judge has placed an injunction on the state’s new voter ID law. Judge Richard Niess permanently enjoined implementation of the bill based on his reading of the state constitution.

2011 Wisconsin Act 23, passed in May 2011, requires that a person wishing to vote present proof of identification before they are given a ballot. The law was applied for the first time during the February 2012 primary elections. Proponents argue that it helps prevent voter fraud, while others say it negatively affects minorities’ ability to vote.

The League of Women Voters argued the state constitution allows the Legislature to exclude felons and mentally incompetent people from voting, but not other classes of people. Judge Niess agreed that the law creates a new category of people who cannot vote – those without ID – thus violating Article III of the state constitution.

“…Act 23 goes beyond mere regulation of elections. Its photo ID requirements impermissibly eliminate the right of suffrage altogether for certain constitutionally qualified electors.”

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced the state will appeal the court’s decision, making it very likely that a higher court will ultimately decide the validity of voter ID standards in Wisconsin.

However, Judge Niess took issue with this assumption, calling any judge that overturns his decision a judicial activist.

“…we cannot ignore the proper role of the courts in constitutional litigation. Because the Wisconsin Constitution is the people’s bulwark against government overreach, courts must reject every opportunity to contort its language into implicitly providing what it explicitly does not: license to enact laws that, for any citizen, cancel or substantially burden a constitutionally-guaranteed sacred right, such as the right to vote. Otherwise we stray into judicial activism at its most insidious. Our Constitution is a line in the sand drawn by the sovereign authority in this state – the people of Wisconsin – that the legislature, governor, and the courts may not cross, particularly under the all-too-convenient guise of strained construction and attenuated inference.”

Hamilton discussed the temporary injunction issued by Judge David Flanagan on March 9th in another state court challenge to the law. There are a total of four lawsuits challenging the law. In addition to the two Dane County cases, there are two challenges to the law in federal court in Milwaukee.

Hamilton Consulting will provide continuous updates as these lawsuits move through the court system.