ICYMI: Federal Judge in Alabama Dismisses Lawsuit Contesting Voter ID Law

Last Wednesday, January 10th, U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler of the Northern District of Alabama dismissed a lawsuit brought against the Alabama Secretary of State in an attempt to block a recently passed voter ID law.

Plaintiffs argue the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and the new requirement caused an "undue burden" on minorities in part because the state had curtailed driver's license operations. Meanwhile, Defendants contested that the new voter ID law did not and, in fact, a variety of documents were acceptable forms of identification and the state offered to provide free ID cards to those unable to afford them.

On Wednesday, NPR reported:

[Judge] Coogler agreed with the state's argument that it had important "regulatory interests" in passing the law, and that it was not intended to disenfranchise black voters. . . . The state said the law was part of national trend to combat voter fraud, increase voter confidence and modernize elections. [Alabama Secretary of State John] Merrill maintained the case should be thrown out, arguing the law provided for a wide range of acceptable IDs and procedures for voters to obtain a valid photo voter identification card, including waiving fees for nondriver IDs. Additionally, the state has a mobile ID unit that provides free voter ID cards for people who lack transportation to other state offices to obtain one.

[Judge] Coogler found that "even though Black and Latino registered voters are almost twice as likely as white voters to lack an acceptable photo ID, no one is prevented from voting." He says the state has made it easy to get an ID for voting purposes. [] "The issue is not who has or does not have a photo ID at present," Coogler wrote. "The issue is whether the Photo ID Law denies members of a minority group the opportunity to reasonably get one, assuming they want one." [Judge Coogler] found that "minorities do not have less opportunity to vote under Alabama Photo ID law because everyone has the same opportunity to obtain an ID."

NPR reports that Judge Coogler concludes in the opinion:

"The plaintiffs have simply failed to provide evidence that members of the protected class have less of an opportunity than others to participate in the political process," Coogler wrote. He cited rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld similar voter ID laws in Indiana and Georgia.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued the following statement shortly after news of the dismissal was announced:

Today’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit is without a doubt the right decision. . . . Alabama’s voter identification law is one of the broadest in the nation with procedures in place to allow anyone who does not have a photo ID to obtain one. The court order makes this point exceedingly clear: ‘…a person who does not have a photo ID today is not prevented from voting if he or she can easily get one, and it is so easy to get a photo ID in Alabama, no one is prevented from voting.’

This court applied the proper analysis under Crawford v. Marion Co. (the Supreme Court's 2008 Indiana voter ID decision) to respect the will of the people of Alabama and determine that Alabama's voter ID law does not infringe upon the right to vote.  We will keep an eye on this case and will report on any appeals.