A state appeals court overturned a Dane County Circuit Court ruling Thursday morning, handing proponents of the state’s controversial voter ID law a minor legal victory.
The ruling from the 4th District Court of Appeals came in a case brought by the Wisconsin League of Women Voters. The league argued the law passed in 2011 violated a provision of the Wisconsin Constitution that guarantees every person the right to vote.
Thursday's ruling, however, will not result in the voter ID law being enacted. Three other lawsuits are still pending that challenge the legality of the law.
In the other case brought in state courts, Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group, and the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP won a permanent injunction against the voter ID law in Dane County Circuit Court. The state Department of Justice has asked for an appeals court review of the ruling.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the League of United Latin American Citizens have filed separate lawsuits challenging the law in federal court and those cases are pending.
“Today’s court decision is a limited one,” Andrea Kaminski, the League’s executive director, said Thursday.
“The court of appeals declined to find that the voter ID law is unconstitutional in the absence of evidence that the requirement impairs the rights of qualified citizens to vote," she added. "Such evidence was not presented in this case. Thus, the decision does not resolve the constitutionality of the law. Other cases are still pending in state and federal courts that address the impairment issue.”
The state agreed on the limited reach of the ruling.
“From the start, we have defended the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s voter ID law. While today’s decision is an important step toward full vindication of the law, we recognize that other challenges are still pending that address different issues,” said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen in a statement. “We will continue to defend the law and look forward to favorable decisions in those other cases as well.”
The appeals court judges wrote: "We reject the League’s additional, implied argument that the requirement is unconstitutional under the Article III right to suffrage because it imposes a restriction that is, on its face, so burdensome that it effectively denies potential voters their right to vote, and is therefore constitutionally 'unreasonable.' We express no opinion as to whether such an argument might have merit if supported by fact finding regarding the burdens imposed. However, in this facial challenge in which the League does not rely on any fact finding or evidentiary material, the implied argument falls short."
Kaminski said the League “is proud to have launched a legal challenge to the law, which erects barriers to citizen participation in government,” adding that the group is "considering our options with regard to further legal review.”
The voter ID law, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker, drastically changed state law by requiring voters to show photo identification before casting their ballot.
Republicans argue the law is needed to prevent voter fraud. Yet according to the state Department of Justice, fewer than two dozen cases of voter fraud have been prosecuted in the past decade.