NRO: No Issue Is Truly Ever Settled, Except Oppressive Voter ID Laws

The National Review Online simultaneously questioned the legitimacy of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and overstated the constitutionality of voter ID laws that require citizens to produce unnecessarily redundant photo identification.

In an attempt to normalize Republicans' refusal to accept a duly enacted law already ruled on as constitutional by the Supreme Court - a degree of obstructionism that The New Yorker recently observed was last seen in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education -  the NRO recently defended the GOP shutdown of the government by comparing it to the opposition to overly stringent voter ID laws. From an October 3 column:

[H]ow many times in the past 24 hours have you heard [President Obama and congressional Democrats] or their allies make the argument that Obamacare is a settled issue because 1) it was enacted by duly elected federal lawmakers and signed by a duly elected president, 2) the U.S. Supreme Court said it passed constitutional muster, and 3) it was championed by a reelected Obama and opposed by a defeated Romney? That's not how republics work -- no issue is ever truly settled -- but more important it's not how these same folks behave on other issues.

Take voter ID. Many states, including my own North Carolina, have seen voter ID became law through the actions of duly elected state lawmakers and governors. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that voter ID passes constitutional muster. State officials enacting voter ID have subsequently been reelected. But in the eyes of the Obama administration, voter ID is about as far away from “settled” as an issue can be. Attorney General Eric Holder has just announced a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's new election law, including the photo-ID requirement. The Justice Department continues to pursue or threaten similar litigation in other states.

A fair comparison? I think so. But there is an important difference between Obamacare and voter ID. The former is unpopular. The latter is supported by the vast majority of voters, including most Democrats, independents, and minorities. So conservatives are fighting an uphill battle to defeat an unpopular law. Liberals are fighting an uphill battle (I suspect) to defeat a popular law.

NRO's false equivalence between the ACA and voter ID laws is awkward at best. The ACA is well-settled federal law of the land. The constitutionality of state voter ID laws, on the other hand, is still very much in doubt. 

NRO's claim that “voter ID passes constitutional muster” is presumably a reference to the 2008 Supreme Court case Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. Crawford held that Indiana's unique voter ID law, which required all citizens who voted in person to present a government-issued photo ID, did not violate the constitution. Although the North Carolina voter ID law -- the most recent example of voter suppression to be challenged in court -- is superficially similar to Indiana's, Crawford doesn't necessarily apply. The decision in Crawford was specific to Indiana's law, which the Court ruled was “supported by valid neutral justifications”: 

[I]f a nondiscriminatory law is supported by valid neutral justifications, those justifications should not be disregarded simply because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators.

But unlike the Indiana law at issue in Crawford, the DOJ argues that the passage of North Carolina's law was not neutral. According to the DOJ's complaint, it was actually “motivated by discriminatory purpose” specifically aimed at disenfranchising African-American voters. As The Nation reported, the timing of North Carolina's law is highly suspicious:

The Justice Department filed suit against key provisions of North Carolina's worst-in-the-nation voter suppression law in federal court today. The lawsuit alleges that North Carolina's harsh voter ID law, cutbacks to early voting, elimination of same-day registration during the early voting period and ban on counting provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Department also argues that these voting changes were enacted with intentional discrimination and thus North Carolina should have to approve all of its voting changes with the federal government for a period of time.

“By restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference today. Days after the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, “the state legislature took aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African-Americans,” said Holder. “This is an intentional attempt to break a system that was working.”

The DOJ case comes on the heels of three lawsuits filed by civil rights groups in August challenging North Carolina's voting restrictions. The Department has also recently filed suit against Texas's voter ID law and redistricting maps.

Seven Southern states have passed or implemented new voting restrictions since that SCOTUS decision, and the North Carolina law is the most extreme yet. The law eliminates or curtails nearly everything that encourages people to vote in North Carolina, replaced by unnecessary and burdensome new requirements. The evidence of discrimination against African-American voters in the state is crystal clear: African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, but made up 29 percent of early voters in 2012, 30 percent of those who cast out-of-precinct ballots, 34 percent of the 318,000 registered voters without state-issued ID and 41 percent of those who used same-day registration.

Moreover, in contrast to NRO's claim that such laws are supported by a “vast majority,” it turns out that only 39 percent of North Carolina's voters favor HB 589. NRO's reassurance that it is the will of the people that distinguishes opposition to the ACA from opposition to voter suppression fails too. 

Photo by Flickr user SEIU International