Opponents of Republican-backed restrictive voting measures won a victory less than a month before Election Day week when a federal court ruled on Oct. 10 that South Carolina’s voter ID law would not go into effect until next year.
South Carolina voters can cast ballots on Nov. 6 without being forced to show photo ID, the three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in Washington said, since there was not enough time to implement the recently passed law this year.
The judges also clarified aspects of the law, which goes into effect in 2013, so that it “does not require a photo ID to vote.” In fact, the court had threatened to overturn the entire law if South Carolina officials hadn’t promised to give voters more latitude, according to Reuters.
Without that assurance, the law "could have discriminatory effects and impose material burdens on African-American voters," wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
“We are pleased that the Court recognized that South Carolina’s photo ID law raised a real risk of discrimination, and that the risk of discriminatory effects in the upcoming election is too great to allow the photo ID law to be used this year," said Bob Kengle, Voting Rights Project co-director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The Court went to great lengths to be sure that the very specific interpretation of the law that it is preclearing for 2013 and beyond will minimize the potential for minority citizens to be denied the right to vote.”
The Lawyers’ Committee was among several civil rights groups that were involved in the case. The Committee, along with the Brennan Center for Justice and the law firms Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Derfner, Altman & Wilborn LLC represented the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, who joined the case, South Carolina v. Holder, as defendant-intervenors with Craig Debose, a South Carolina voter.
The League joined the U.S. Department of Justice in challenging the law, citing the potential disenfranchisement of thousands of minority voters who were less likely to have the required ID.
“Voting is the most sacred part of our democracy,” said Barbara Zia, co-president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.
“By restricting this fundamental right, engaged citizens would have had to jump through hoops to make their voices heard. The court made the right choice in protecting this important civic duty,” added League co-president Peggy Brown.
In 2011, Republican governors and state lawmakers passed a wave of restrictive photo ID laws, prompting a number of legal, political and social battles. Proponents say the laws protect against voter fraud—though they are usually hard-pressed to offer examples of such fraud.
Opponents say the laws are politically motivated weapons that are being wielded against groups—African Americans, Hispanics, the young and the poor—that tend to vote for Democrats.
The South Carolina decision comes after a series of legal victories in which judges struck down or deferred voter ID laws in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
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