Appeals courts sent two lawsuits challenging Wisconsin's blocked new voter ID law directly to the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, determining it was imperative to resolve the cases quickly given the slate of important upcoming elections, including the state's presidential primaries next week.
If the Supreme Court agrees to take the cases, it could reinstate the state's new requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls just days before Tuesday's election. However, attorneys challenging the law said it is unlikely a decision would come that quickly.
Four of the Supreme Court's seven justices must agree to accept the cases.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which appealed the decisions blocking the law and urged a quick resolution, praised the development.
"The Supreme Court still has time to enter an order ensuring that the Voter ID law will be followed at the April 3rd election, but it needs to move quickly," said Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck.
More elections are on the horizon. State elections officials on Friday are expected to order recall elections against Gov. Scott Walker and five other Republicans for May 8 and June 5.
The voter ID law was blocked earlier this month by two different Dane County circuit court judges who said the law passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature was an unconstitutional impairment to the right to vote.
The law's opponents say it will disenfranchise minority groups, the poor, students and senior citizens who lack photo identification.
Supporters say it's needed to stop any potential voter fraud, while opponents counter the potential for wrongdoing is overblown because so few cases have been reported. The law requires voters to show either a state-issued ID card, valid driver's license, U.S. passport, a student ID that expires within two years or a military ID.
The voter ID requirement was in effect for the February primary election and few problems were reported in the low-turnout election. But the judges' orders blocked it for Tuesday's spring election in which 35 percent turnout is predicted in the Republican presidential primary. A number of local races are also on the ballot.
The Second District Court of Appeals said that because the lawsuits raise significant legal issues that affect the essential functions of the state, and because quick resolution is essential, the Supreme Court should take the cases. The Fourth District Appeals Court agreed that it made sense to consolidate the cases and send them both to the Supreme Court.
One lawsuit was brought by the NAACP's Milwaukee branch, Voces de la Frontera, an immigrants' rights group, and 12 individual voters. The other was brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and an individual voter.
Susan Crawford, attorney for the League of Women Voters, said the appeals courts' decisions were not unexpected.
"We always knew this case would end up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court sooner or later," she said. "And it appears now to be sooner."
But Crawford said there was not enough time to adequately brief the court before Tuesday's election.
"It's an important issue, it's a fairly complex issue, and it's one that doesn't deserve to have a rushed decision," she said.
Richard Saks, attorney for the NAACP, said it would be unlikely and unusual for the Supreme Court to act before Tuesday.
"But they certainly have the ability to act quickly when they so desire," he said.
Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan had scheduled a trial in the case brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Voces de la Frontera starting on April 16. Until that is ordered to stop it will proceed, Saks said.
Flanagan's order blocking the law drew derision from Republicans after it was revealed that Flanagan had signed a petition to recall Walker, a supporter of the voter ID law.
State elections officials pulled a statewide radio and television campaign educating voters about the photo ID requirement after the law was put on hold. However, election clerks around the state were asked to continue training inspectors and poll workers just in case the law was reinstated prior to the election.
The state's chief election official Kevin Kennedy had said he wanted the Department of Justice to wait on appealing the rulings until after Tuesday's presidential primary to avoid any confusion.
Fifteen states have voter ID laws, but Wisconsin's was seen as one of the most restrictive.
Two other federal lawsuits challenging Wisconsin's law are also pending.