Friday, April 14, 2006

Judge Barker Slaps Down Democrats Partisan Challenge To Voter ID Law

In a blistering opinion, Indiana Democratic Party et al. v. Todd Rokita, U.S. federal judge Sarah Evans Barker turned down the Indiana Democratic Party's challenge to Indiana's new Voter ID law, which requires voters to present photo identification at polling places in order to vote. Democrats contended that the new law violates the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Article 2, Sections 1 and 2 of the Indiana Constitution. Using unusually harsh language in rejecting the Democrats' claim, Judge Barker writes:

This litigation is the result of a partisan legislative disagreement that has spilled out of the state house into the courts. Plaintiffs (with one possible exception) became engaged in this dispute while it was still being debated by the Indiana General Assembly and, in moving to this judicial forum, in many respects they have failed to adapt their arguments to the legal arena. Plaintiffs, for example, have not introduced evidence of a single, individual Indiana resident who will be unable to vote as a result of SEA 483 or who will have his or her right to vote unduly burdened by its the requirements. Plaintiffs also have repeatedly advanced novel, sweeping political arguments which, if adopted, would require the invalidation, not only of SEA 483, but of other significant portions of Indiana’s election code which have previously passed constitutional muster and/or to which Plaintiffs do not actually object; indeed, they offer them as preferable alternatives to the new Voter ID Law. In so doing, Plaintiffs’ case is based on the implied assumption that the Court should give these Constitutional and statutory provisions an expansive review based on little more than their own personal and political preferences.

Secretary of State Todd Rokita defended the state's new law "as being justified by legitimate legislative concern for in-person voting fraud and a reasonable exercise of the State’s constitutional power to regulate the time, place, and manner of elections." In dismissing the Democrats' lawsuit, Judge Barker held that the new voter ID law "is a constitutionally-valid, reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on voting and on voters." Judge Barker had particularly harsh words for the Democrats' counsel in this case. In a footnote she expresses her displeasure with their performance:

We pause at the outset to remark that our task in ruling on the complicated issues in this case has been impeded, not so much by the expansive scope of the litigation as by the haphazard, “shot gun” approach utilized by the attorneys in raising these difficult issues and then leaving them unsupported by evidence or controlling legal precedent. The briefing was fraught with inaccurate citations to the record, mischaracterized evidence in the record, and misrepresented holdings in the case law. Particularly troublesome was the fact that the two sets of plaintiffs consistently spoke independently of one another often raising the same argument but in slightly different fashion and without informing the court whether they were adopting or incorporating the claims of their co-plaintiffs. Plaintiffs also made no apparent effort to match individual plaintiffs to specific claims or arguments. What the court faced, as a result, was the gargantuan task of sorting through the hodge-podge of individual plaintiffs, their claims, and their evidence and then trying to make sense of it all. To require the Court to sort everything out and make legal sense of it, is a dereliction of counsels’ responsibilities and an abuse of the court’s scarce resources. None-the-less, we have done the best we can under the circumstances.

In support of its lawsuit, the Democrats relied heavily on the so-called "Brace Report", which was prepared by an expert hired by the Democrats. The report concludes that at least 51,000 registered voters and as many as 141,000 registered voters in Marion County, and up to 989,000 registered voters in the State of Indiana do not currently possess an acceptable form of photo identification as required by the voter ID law. Judge Barker did not include the report in her findings "because [she] view[ed] the analysis and conclusions set out in it as utterly incredible and unreliable . . . Moreover, to the extent that the data on which Brace based his report is admissible, it actually strengthens the Defendants’ contentions, not the Plaintiffs."

Judge Barker dismissed the Democrats' contention that the voter ID imposed such a burden on the right to vote that it required the court's "strict scrutiny." Barker said of the new law, "photo identification requirement for in-person voting does not impose a severe burden on the right to vote, thus removing the necessity to subject the law to strict scrutiny." Judge Barker accepted and concurred that the state's important regulatory interest "in combatting voter fraud" justified the "reasonable, non-discriminatory restrictions" contained in the voter ID law.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


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