Federal District Court Rejects Constitutional and Voting Rights Act Claims Against Alabama Voter ID Law

You can find the 69 page opinion here (via Chris Geidner).

I’m not surprised by the result in the case, given that Alabama’s voter id law is much less strict than some other recent id laws, and the tendency of most courts to uphold most of these laws.

But there are some odd parts of the decision, most importantly this part on page which seems to do a bait and switch on the necessity of voter id to allow for voter fraud:

Two additional points remain. First, the Court finds that Alabama had “important regulatory interests” in enacting a photo ID requirement, namely, to combat voter fraud, increase confidence in elections, and modernize election procedures. See, e.g., Common Cause/Georgia, 554 F.3d at 1352. The Eleventh Circuit, adhering to Supreme Court precedent, has held that these policies are legitimate. See id. at 1352-53, citing Crawford, 553 U.S. at 192-97. The undisputed facts show that voter fraud, albeit almost entirely in the context of absentee voting, did exist in Alabama prior to the law’s enactment. In any event, the Supreme Court has held that deterring voter fraud is a legitimate policy for a State even in the absence of any record evidence of voter fraud occurring. Crawford, 553 U.S. at 195 (no record evidence of voter fraud in Indiana). Thus, Secretary Merrill is not required to prove that voter fraud exists (although he has done so), that the Photo ID Law helps deter voter fraud, or that the law increases confidence in elections. Supreme Court precedent mandates that Alabama’s justifications for the law are valid.

Following this, the Court tries to distinguish the 4th Circuit’s opinion striking down North Carolina’s strict voting law. In that case, NC NAACP v. McCrory, the 4th Circuit said racially discriminatory intent was enough to doom the law, even absent a racially discriminatory effect. In this case, the trial judge, after mentioning all the things the plaintiffs alleged about racially discriminatory intent (e.g., from page 22 “racist statements (referring to Black voters as ‘illiterates’ and ‘aborigines’) made by several Legislators during recorded conversations contemporaneous to the passage of the Photo ID Law but that did not involve the Photo ID Law”), said the court didn’t need to decide if there was any racially discriminatory intent, because the law had no negative effect on any Alabama voter given that it is “so easy” to get an ID in Alabama (despite the attempted closure of Motor Vehicle offices precisely to make it harder for African American voters to get id—that was the idea of the former governor’s mistress).

My bottom line: this case is not consistent with the 4th Circuit case (which would hold discriminatory intent is enough), and if the 11th Circuit agrees with the 4th this case would have to be remanded for factual findings on racially discriminatory intent. But barring that, the result is likely to stand even though the reasoning in this particular opinion is not very convincing.


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