Judge Halts New Voter ID Law Ahead Of Primary

Legislature Passed Law Last Year

Published On: Mar 12 2012 01:14:51 AM CDT   Updated On: Mar 13 2012 11:11:37 AM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

A second Wisconsin judge has struck down the state's voter identification law less than a week after another judge temporarily stopped it.

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess issued a permanent injunction on Monday. Niess took testimony on the issue last Friday, and now is calling the law, which was passed by the Legislature last year, unconstitutional.

In a written ruling, Niess said that lawmakers had violated the state constitution in passing the law requiring voters to show ID at the polls. He said that legislators had created a new qualification to vote.

An attorney representing the League of Women Voters, the organization that filed the lawsuit, called the decision a victory.

"I think the court made a very deliberative and really a very narrow ruling," said Susan Crawford, attorney for the League of Women Voters. "The court said in its ruling that it was not ruling that any form of voter ID law would be unconstitutional, but that this law was just because it specifically requires that voters be disqualified if they can't show an ID."

Some Republicans who passed the law said that they believe it ultimately will stand.

"So, we think that the law is constitutional under the U.S. Constitution. I think the best thing for the state of Wisconsin is that we have a constitutional law for this within our state," said state Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale.

The judge's ruling complicates plan ahead of the next election. The Government Accountability Board said that if the ruling reaffirmed, this means the law wouldn't be in effect for the April 3 presidential primary.

Monday's injunction against the law is permanent, pending an appeal. The case is expected to be appealed to an appeals court and eventually, the state Supreme Court.

Stone said he believes the state Supreme Court will back up Wisconsin's law.

"I think we've got way too many things that are bouncing back and forth in our state. I think that it's become a political issue more than a legal issue and I'd like to have the law clarified, have the state Supreme Court weigh in, and say 'This is Wisconsin's law,'" said Stone.

A local political analyst said there is a difference between the wording in two constitutions when it comes to the qualifications to vote.

"What sets us apart is our unusually strong language in our constitution which makes the state constitution an important element of this within the state courts, which may or may not ultimately uphold the decision," said Charles Franklin, a professor at Marquette University Law School.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in a statement on Monday afternoon that he believes the law is constitutional and will immediately pursue an appeal.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker condemned the decision.

"It's a shame activist Dane County judges continue to stand in the way of common sense," the statement read.

The governor believes the state will prevail in its plan to implement voter identification, the spokesman wrote.

The law has sparked a handful of lawsuits and court wrangling in recent weeks. A different judge in a separate case last week granted a temporary injunction against the law taking effect for the primary. Attorneys for the state had requested to delay that order.

Four lawsuits are challenging the law, which was passed and signed into law last spring.

Supporters say it helps prevent voter fraud. Opponents counter there are few documented cases of wrongdoing.