Right looks for split decision in USSC voter-ID case

Legal News Line Jan. 11, 2008, 5:26am

Chief Justice John G. Roberts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court gave early hints this week of leaning towards allowing state-based voter-ID laws in opening proceedings. The high court began hearing arguments Wednesday in two Indiana cases: William Crawford, et al. v. Marion County Election Board, et al.; and Indiana Democratic Party, et al. v. Todd Rokita, Indiana Secretary of State, et al. They challenge the constitutionality of Indiana's laws requiring registered voters to present photo-IDs. Ninteen other states have passed similar laws, which do not allow registered voters without identification to receive a ballot paper. Republicans generally claim such measures are needed to combat voter fraud while Democrats argue they are an attempt to disenfranchise the poor, minorities and the elderly, a key voting bloc. The Supreme Court in early arguments Wednesday appeared split 4-4 on the case, with swing voter Justice Anthony Kennedy joining in conservative Justices Roberts, Alito and Scalia's sharp questioning of the law's opponents. Liberal Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer and Souter appeared more receptive to them. Chief Justice John Roberts' grilling of the Indiana Democrats' attorney indicated that this case could follow others opposed based on hypothetical concerns, one report noted. The Roberts Supreme Court has typically leaned towards cases presenting actual plaintiffs with existing problems. Conservative justices hammered this theme in Wednesday's questioning. Roberts at one point told the Democrats' attorney: "You had not come up with a single instance of somebody who was denied the right to vote because they didn't have a photo ID." But a commentary yesterday pointed to a Brown University study of 2004 election turn-outs in states with and without photo-ID laws. It concluded that they reduced overall turnout by about 15 percent, shrinking the number of voters in 2004 by 1.6 million nationwide.

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