A Dane County judge on Tuesday barred the enforcement of the state photo ID law at polling places during the general election on April 3, calling it an "extremely broad and largely needless" impairment of the right to vote.
Circuit Judge David Flanagan said the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera had demonstrated that their lawsuit against Gov. Scott Walker and the state Government Accountability Board would probably succeed on its merits and had demonstrated the likelihood of irreparable harm if the photo ID law is allowed to stand. (Read the injunction)
But hours after news of Flanagan's ruling broke, conservative activists began circulating a link that showed that Flanagan had signed a petition to recall Walker. (See the recall petition)
Flanagan granted a temporary injunction ordering Walker and the GAB to "cease immediately any effort to enforce or implement the photo identification requirements" of the law, pending a trial on a permanent injunction scheduled before him on April 16.
"If no injunction is issued, a clearly improper impairment of a most vital element of our society will occur," Flanagan wrote. "The duty of the court is clear. The case has been made. Irreparable harm is likely to occur in the absence of an injunction."
Republicans pushed the law through the Legislature last year to stop voter fraud. But opponents of the law have said it goes too far and keeps eligible voters from casting ballots, especially minorities, the poor and the disabled.
Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which is defending the law in court, said DOJ is reviewing the ruling and is likely to appeal.
"We disagree with the ruling and will continue our efforts to defend Wisconsin's voter ID law, which is similar to laws that have already been upheld by the United States Supreme Court," Brueck said.
Democrats applauded Flanagan's decision.
"Today's action that halts the implementation of flawed legislation that makes it harder for students, seniors and minorities to exercise their right to vote is a victory for all Wisconsinites," said Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "Wisconsin law should focus on increasing voter participation, not diminishing it."
State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said the ruling could boost turnout among Milwaukee's under-represented communities, especially Latinas and African-American men.
Cullen Werwie, the governor's spokesman, said Walker was confident the state would prevail in the case.
"Requiring photo identification to vote is common sense. We require it to get a library card, cold medicine, and public assistance," he said. "Ensuring the integrity of our elections is one of the core functions of government."
The GAB said it would "take steps to suspend enforcement and implementation" of the voter ID law and work with local election officials and the public on Flanagan's order.
The lawsuit is one of several pending in state and federal courts challenging the law. On Monday, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess agreed to allow another lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin to go forward, finding that the League is a proper party to bring the lawsuit.
In Flanagan's decision, he wrote that the state constitution establishes voting as a fundamental right. With the photo ID law, Flanagan wrote, Wisconsin now has the "benefit and burden" of the most restrictive voter eligibility law in the U.S.
But the law addresses a problem which is very limited, "if indeed extant," he wrote, and fails to account for the difficulty its demands impose upon indigent, elderly and disabled voters.
"It offers no flexibility, no alternative to prevent the exclusion of a constitutionally qualified voter," he wrote. "By contrast, the sweep and impact of the law is very broad," and steps beyond the proper authority of the Legislature in violation of the state constitution.
"The scope of the impairment has been shown to be serious, extremely broad and largely needless," he wrote. "There is no doubt that the plaintiffs have shown a very substantial likelihood of success on the merits.
Flanagan cited testimony by UW-Madison professor Ken Mayer, who found that as of 2002 there were 221,975 constitutionally qualified voters who do not have a driver's license or a photo identification card. Eligible voters without a license may apply for a voter identification card from the state Department of Transportation, but the assertion that there is no direct fee for that, Flanagan wrote, "is at best a somewhat incomplete picture."
Of 40 affidavits submitted to the court about the process of getting an ID card, 19 said they paid between $14 and $39.50 to obtain a certified birth certificate from Wisconsin and elsewhere.
"This is a real cost that is imposed upon constitutionally eligible voters and was found to be an improper burden by the Missouri Supreme Court," Flanagan wrote, citing that state's case concerning a photo identification law.