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SCOTUS Allows Voter IDs

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld an Indiana law that requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, a decision that could have wide-ranging implications not only on Hoosier State voters but on residents around the country as more states prepare similar laws. The six-to-three ruling allowed the Indiana law, which remains in force, to stand, drawing criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups that maintain it will disenfranchise minority voters.

Twenty-five states have some form of voter identification law on the book, the New York Times reports, and in several states the legislature is in some stage of consideration of new measures. Identification laws have been challenged before, and largely because of a Georgia statute, Federal Election Commission nominee Hans von Spakovsky has been held up by Democrats who oppose his view on the subject.

The ruling, said some election law experts, did not validate all voter identification laws, though it did shift the burden of proof to groups who claim to be disenfranchised by such laws. "The court specifically left open the possibility of lawsuits against ID laws that burden specific groups of citizens like older voters, poor voters and students," New York University law professor Wendy Weiser told the Times.

Civil liberties organizations say the Indiana law and those similar to it can hinder minority and elderly voting, as those are the demographics least likely to have state-issued identification. Both groups tend to vote heavily Democratic, a fact not lost on either party; Republicans generally favor voter identification laws, while Democrats oppose them. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out that every Republican in the Indiana legislature voted for the measure, while every Democrat opposed it.

Congressional Democrats reacted harshly to the ruling. "The Indiana law and others like it are roadblocks to democracy - these laws place an unnecessary burden on elderly and low-income voters, not to mention other voters of disparate racial and ethnic backgrounds, among others," Reid said in the statement. "As November approaches, Americans must remain vigilant to protect the right to vote in the face of this and other schemes to depress turnout."

"The Court's decision today places obstacles to the fundamental rights of American citizens -- especially the poor, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities -- to participate in the electoral process," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her own statement. "Requiring American citizens pay for underlying documents needed for an identification card and travel to distant motor vehicle locations for processing hinders -- and diminishes -- their right to vote."

Four opinions in the case took widely different paths to reaching their conclusions. Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts argued the state's right to prevent voter fraud superseded the burden on voters. A concurring opinion said the law was justified and mocked opposition to the measure as irrelevant; Justices Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito joined author Antonin Scalia in that opinion.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter authored the dissenting opinion, while Justice Stephen Breyer dissented on his own.