Friday, September 18, 2009

Indiana Appeals Court Overturns Voter-ID Law

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Indiana, Indiana's intermediate appellate court, ruled yesterday in League of Women Voters v. Rokita that the state's voter-ID law violated the state constitutional equal protection clause.  The law requires, with certain narrow exceptions discussed below, that Indiana voters produce a valid, government-issued picture identification card before voting.  This is the same law that the United State Supreme Court upheld last year in Crawford v. Marion County.

Indiana's equal protection clause, the "Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause," Article I, Section 23 of the state constitution, reads as follows:

The General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.

According to the panel, Section 23 does not use the same varying degrees of scrutiny that courts use in applying federal equal protection.  Instead, "[l]egislative classification becomes a judicial question only where the lines drawn appear arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable, and the challenger must negate every reasonable basis for the classification."  League of Women Voters v. Rokita (quoting W.C.B. v. State).  And judicial deference--"substantial deference to legislative discretion"--is built into the analysis.  League of Women Voters (citing Collins v. Day).

In overturning the voter-ID law, the Court of Appeals focused on the two more nonsensical classifications in the statute.  First, the law exempts absentee voters from the ID requirement, creating one class that must show an ID (in-person voters) and another class that need not show ID (absentee voters).  Second, the law exempts voters who reside at a precinct polling place that is located at a state licensed care facility where the voter resides, creating one class that must show an ID (those who do not reside at such facilities) and another class that need not show ID (those who do reside at such facilities).  The court held that neither of these classification advanced the state's interest in reducing voter fraud.  The court further ruled that the first classification was non-severable and thus overturned the entire act.

Why the different result here than in Crawford?  It's not (merely) that this case came up under the state constitution, not the federal constitution.  (This particular state constitutional provision didn't obviously provide any greater protection than the federal Equal Protection Clause.)  Instead, it's the way the cases were litigated.  In Crawford, the Supreme Court focused on the right to vote and sidestepped the classifications.  Putting this in a right-to-vote framework triggered the analysis under Anderson v. Celebrezze--a case that modified (some might say gutted) Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections by holding that "evenhanded restrictions" on the right to vote that are designed to protect the integrity of the process are perfectly fine, even as a poll tax (as in Harper) runs afoul of the Equal Protection Clause. 

In contrast, in League of Women Voters, the court focused on the classifications--different treatment with respect to ID requirements that failed on their face to advance the state's interests.  (Justice Souter discussed these classifications in his dissent in Crawford, but the classifications did not get the attention of the majority.) 

Thus the Indiana Court of Appeals didn't (necessarily) rule that Indiana's equal protection doctrine "goes beyond" what federal Equal Protection demands.  (The court didn't even cite Crawford in this portion of its opinion.)  Instead, it simply took a different approach--an approach based more squarely on the classifications and less on the right to vote.

The state will surely appeal, as suggested by Governor Daniels in today's NYT piece on the case.


Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Recent Cases | Permalink

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