Friday, April 23, 2010

The Latest Challenge to Indiana's Voter ID Law

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana last week dismissed the latest attack on Indiana's voter ID law in Stewart v. Marion County.  (Thanks to Election Law Blog for the link.)  Recall that the Supreme Court upheld the law against an Equal Protection/fundamental rights challenge nearly two years ago in Crawford v. Marion County, but the Indiana Court of Appeals (the state's intermediate appellate court) overturned the law last fall under the state constitutional "Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause."  (The Indiana Court of Appeals ruling is now before the state supreme court.  We don't yet have a ruling.)


In Stewart, the district court rejected the plaintiff's claims under the Twenty-Fourth Amendment (ruling that the ID law did not amount to a poll tax), the Fourth Amendment (ruling that the ID law did not constitute a search), and the First and Fourteenth Amendments (ruling that these claims were already foreclosed by Crawford at the Seventh Circuit and at the Supreme Court).  The court also rejected Stewart's claim under the federal Privacy Act. 

Stewart's claims might have gotten somewhat more traction if Stewart didn't have an ID.  Yes, that's right: Stewart lacked standing.

This is rather remarkably in the wake of Crawford.  That case, to be sure, was no model of clarity in reasoning and result, but between the several opinions in that case--and with the well settled doctrine that a plaintiff must have standing (!)--subsequent challengers to Indiana's voter ID law should have understood, at least, that they needed to plead with some particularity that they have been harmed.

Whatever else might be said about Crawford, the opinions together provide a pretty clear roadmap for plaintiffs seeking to challenge voter ID laws (and similar broadly applicable laws designed to ensure the integrity of the voting process).  For example, the Court pretty clearly told future plaintiffs that they need to lodge an as-applied (not facial) challenge if they want to get out of the starting gate.  The Court also pretty clearly told future plaintiffs that they need to have specific evidence supporting their alleged harms.  And it clearly told future plaintiffs that they need to have standing. 

In contrast to Stewart, the plaintiffs in Rokita, the case now before the Indiana Supreme Court on state constitutional grounds, read Crawford's roadmap well and presented their case accordingly.  This, along with the stronger bite of the Indiana state constitution, led to the favorable result in the intermediate appellate court.

Stewart's failure to follow Crawford's roadmap could have resulted in positively bad law for future challengers of voter ID.  In some ways, it did: The district court wrote more than it needed to about, e.g., the Twenty Fourth Amendment in rejecting Stewart's claims.  (The court could have dismissed the case with much less substantive analysis, given Stewart's lack of standing, and thus avoided dicta unfavorable to future plaintiffs.)  But Stewart's case was apparently so badly flawed that the ruling will likely have little impact on any future federal cases.

One thing is for certain: The case will not have any impact on Rokita, the case pending at the Indiana Supreme Court.  In addition to carefully heeding Crawford, plaintiffs in that case tailored their claims under state constitutional law, and the state supreme court will thus rule only under the state constitution. 

The three cases--Crawford, Rokita, and Stewart--together provide a nice study in how to litigate (and how not to litigate) constitutional questions.


Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Recent Cases | Permalink

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