Yesterday, Judge Richard Niess became the second Wisconsin state judge to strike down that state’s Voter ID law as inconsistent with the Wisconsin Constitution. Like a previous decision striking down the voter disenfranchising law, Niess held that the Voter ID restriction cannot be squared with the state constitution’s command that “[e]very United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident of an election district in this state is a qualified elector of that district,” regardless of whether or not they have an ID.
Because the state constitution is unambiguous on this point, that really should be the end of the discussion. Unfortunately, however, Wisconsin also has a notoriously conservative majority on its state supreme court that may be more interested in helping Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) disenfranchise liberal voters than it is in following the clear command of their state’s constitution. According to Niess, however, upholding this illegal law could only be done if the Wisconsin justices are willing to overrule more than a century of precedent. His opinion relies heavily on an 1880 decision that leaves no doubt that voter disenfranchisement of this kind is not allowed:
The elector possessing the qualifications prescribed by the constitution is invested with the constitutional right to vote at any election in this state. These qualifications are explicit, exclusive, and unqualified by any exceptions, provisos or conditions, and the constitution, either directly or by implication, confers no authority upon the legislature to change, impair, add to or abridge them in any respect.
Unfortunately for the voters of Wisconsin, of course, conservatives have shown little affection for precedent in recent years. The case against the Affordable Care Act requires the Supreme Court to overrule nearly 200 years of established precedent.