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Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin Voter ID Law

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The Supreme Court has blocked the implementation of a Wisconsin voter ID law that triggered an intense legal battle and conflicting court rulings.

In an unusual late-evening action on Oct. 9, the court issued an unsigned, two-paragraph decision — the first paragraph being the ruling of the six-justice majority and the second a dissent from Justice Samuel Alito.

The decision set aside the Sept. 12 ruling of a federal appeals court that had blocked a U.S. District Court judge's order preventing enforcement of the Wisconsin law.

Alito, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said there was not sufficient proof that the appeals court had "clearly and 'demonstrably' erred" in its ruling. The District Court judge ruled in April that the Wisconsin law discriminated against low-income and minority voters — including older voters.

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The voter ID law and the extended litigation have become an issue in the state's competitive contest for governor. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is seeking a second term, urged passage of the law when it was enacted in 2011 and has supported the efforts of Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, to fight state and federal lawsuits challenging it.

Walker's Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, has opposed the law and sided with organizations — led by the American Civil Liberties Union — that have sought to block its voter ID provisions.

The two sides remained split on the high court's action.

James Hall, the president of the Milwaukee NAACP, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the state law "would most certainly create chaos and confusion in this election." But Van Hollen defended the law and said that his office will explore alternatives to "have voter ID on election day," the newspaper reported.

Opponents of the law argued that "as many as 10 percent of Wisconsin voters, or 300,000 people, lack the identification required to vote.

Ruthelle Frank, 85, the lead plaintiff in the case, said that when she tried to get a state-issued identity card to be able to vote, providing a baptism certificate and other documents, a clerk said to her, “How do I know you’re not an illegal alien?”

The Supreme Court may face additional litigation after the November elections over provisions of the Wisconsin law.

The ACLU and other organizations representing opponents of the law have said that they plan to seek a broader review, asking the high court to overrule last month's federal appeals court ruling, according to SCOTUSblog.

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The Wisconsin voter ID requirement is one of several restrictive state laws that have prompted intense pre-election litigation that could affect turnout in close contests next month.

On the same evening as the Supreme Court's ruling, a U.S. District Court judge struck down a Texas voter ID law, saying the requirement that all voters show photo identification before casting a ballot "creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose."

The Texas attorney general’s office said through a spokeswoman that it would immediately appeal the decision “to avoid voter confusion in the upcoming election.”

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