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Judge rules voter ID law is unconstitutional; permanently bars implementation

Judge rules voter ID law is unconstitutional; permanently bars implementation

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A second Dane County judge ruled Monday that the photo identification requirements of the state voter ID law are unconstitutional and permanently barred further steps to enforce those provisions.

Circuit Judge Richard Niess wrote in his decision, in a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, that the photo ID requirements are "unconstitutional to the extent they serve as a condition for voting at the polls." (Click here to read the decision)

"Without question, where it exists, voter fraud corrupts elections and undermines our form of government," Niess wrote, adding that leaders may take action to prevent it. "But voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression. Indeed, they are two heads on the same monster."

A government that undermines the right to vote imperils its own legitimacy as a government "by the people, for the people and especially of the people," Niess wrote. "It sows the seeds for its own demise as a democratic institution."

Through a spokesman, Gov. Scott Walker said he is confident the voter ID law will stand.

"It's a shame activist Dane County judges continue to stand in the way of common sense," said Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie. "Gov. Walker looks forward to implementing common-sense reforms that protect the electoral process and increases citizens' confidence in the results of our elections."

But perhaps anticipating that critique, Niess wrote that it would be "judicial activism at its most insidious" to contort the constitution's language to do what it doesn't allow — the enactment of laws that "cancel or substantially burden a constitutionally guaranteed sacred right, such as the right to vote."

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office is defending the voter ID law in court, said that the law is consistent with the state constitution and that he will appeal. GAB director Kevin Kennedy also said an appeal will be coming.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin applauded the ruling.

"Today, the second time a judge has ruled against this heinous law, provides Wisconsin a moment to reflect on just what was given away by Scott Walker's tea party Republicans when, instead of focusing on the issues facing our public, they rushed instead to limit their freedoms," said party chairman Mike Tate,

In another case last week, Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan also held that the photo ID requirements are unconstitutional and issued a temporary injunction until a trial in that case can be held next month.

Niess' ruling appears to have a broader and longer-lasting impact than Flanagan's, but both rulings will derail the photo ID requirements during the April 3 general election.

Citing legal precedents that date back to 1880, Niess wrote that the state constitution gives the state legislature express authority to regulate elections, limited to five specific areas, but said the voter ID law does not fall within any of those categories.

He wrote that the people's fundamental right of suffrage "preceded and gave birth to our constitution, not the other way around." Thus, he wrote, "voting rights hold primacy over implicit legislative authority to regulate elections."

Voter photo ID requirements are not always unconstitutional, Niess wrote, but the requirements of the state law that disqualify otherwise qualified voters from casting ballots violates the state constitution, which guarantees the right of any qualified elector to vote.

Controversy erupted last week when it was revealed that Flanagan had signed a recall petition against Walker, who is a defendant in the case Flanagan is overseeing.

Niess said last week that he had not signed a Walker recall petition.

— Reporter Mary Spicuzza contributed to this report.


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