MADISON, Wis. — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away a challenge to Wisconsin’s voter identification law, after having blocked the state from requiring photo IDs in November’s general election.
The justices’ action means the state is free to impose the voter ID requirement in future elections, but Republican Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said it won’t be enforced for an election two weeks from now.
The decision is further evidence that the court put the law on hold last year only because the election was close at hand and absentee ballots already had been mailed with no notification of the need to present photo IDs.
The court did not comment on its order.
Early in-person absentee voting began on Monday for an April 7 election, similar to last year when the law was blocked, and absentee ballots have already been mailed without notification that photo IDs would be required.
“Absentee ballots are already in the hands of voters, therefore, the law cannot be implemented for the April 7 election,” Schimel said in a statement. “The Voter ID law will be in place for future elections – this decision is final.”
His decision came less than two hours after the American Civil Liberties Union filed an emergency motion with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago asking that the law remain blocked through the upcoming election because there isn’t enough time to implement it before then.
Having it take effect now “would cause all kind of confusion,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights project. Ho did not immediately respond to a message seeking his reaction to Schimel’s decision.
A state Supreme Court justice will be elected in the spring election. Voters will also decide whether to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to change how the chief justice of the state Supreme Court is decided. There are also dozens of local races on the ballot.
Wisconsin was one of four states in which a dispute over voting rules reached the Supreme Court last fall. The other states were North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. Of the four states, only Wisconsin’s new rules were blocked.
Wisconsin’s photo ID law has been a political flashpoint since Republican legislators passed it in 2011 and Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law. The GOP argues the mandate is a common sense step toward reducing election fraud. Democrats maintain that in-person voter fraud is extremely rare and that the law is really meant to disenfranchise voters who tend to vote Democrat and who may be more likely to lack proper ID, such as the poor, minorities and the elderly.
Republicans who support the law hailed the court’s decision as a victory for voters, while the League of Women Voters said it was disappointed that the challenge would not be heard.
“The last thing we need is laws that erect barriers for people who have been good voters for decades,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
The law was in effect for the February 2012 primary but subsequent legal challenges put it on hold and it hasn’t been in place for any election since.
The ACLU and allied groups persuaded a federal judge in Milwaukee to declare the law unconstitutional last year. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago later ruled that the law did not violate the Constitution.
The Supreme Court refused to disturb that ruling on Monday.
SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.