Voter ID and the Real Threat to Democracy

Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund, Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2016

The Supreme Court concluded in 2008 that voter ID is constitutional and doesn’t impose an unreasonable burden on voters. But the recent decisions of three federal courts throwing out voter-ID laws in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin as discriminatory have put opponents of common-sense election reforms in raptures. These erroneous rulings twist the Voting Rights Act from a law intended to stop racial discrimination into one that transfers the power to determine routine election procedures–which the Constitution delegates to the states–to the judiciary.

All three rulings share common characteristics, starkly outlined by Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith H. Jones in her dissent in the Texas case, Veasey v. Abbott . Judge Jones wrote that the majority opinion “misconstrues the law, misapplies the facts, and raises serious constitutional questions.” That indictment applies to the North Carolina (NAACP v. McCrory) and Wisconsin (One Wisconsin Institute v. Thomsen) cases, too.

The majority in the Texas ruling, Judge Jones said, fanned “the flames of perniciously irresponsible racial name-calling” by making “inflammatory and unsupportable charges of racist motivation [that] poison the political atmosphere and tarnish the images of every legislator” in Texas. The “multi-thousand page record yields not a trace, much less a legitimate inference, of racial bias by the Texas Legislature.”

The three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that threw out North Carolina’s election reforms last week engaged in the same type of “perniciously irresponsible racial name-calling” that is not supported by the evidence or common sense. The almost 500-page opinion in April by the district court from which the case was appealed contained detailed factual findings that refute the appeals court’s charges of racial discrimination.

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The Justice Department’s so-called experts claimed that turnout would be depressed because–in a patronizingly racist claim that the Fourth Circuit believed–black voters are “less sophisticated” and can’t figure out how to register and vote. But as the district court had already discovered, black voters in North Carolina actually “fared better in terms of registration and turnout rates in 2014, after the new law was implemented, than in 2010, when the old provisions were in place.”

African-American turnout “not only increased, but did so at a greater rate than that of other groups (including whites).” Yet the Fourth Circuit discounted this evidence. {snip}

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What Judge Jones said in the Texas case applies to all of these decisions: They move “us another step down the road of judicial supremacy by potentially subjecting virtually every voter regulation to litigation in federal court.” This is a road where purposeful racial discrimination “can be ‘inferred’ even without a shred” of evidence. They are prime examples of “unauthorized and extra-legislative transfers of power to the judiciary” that “disable the working of the democratic process.” And harm the security and integrity of the election process.

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