In a surprising development, given the same Court’s decision earlier this week to let North Carolina’s new voting law go into effect, the Supreme Court (or at least five members of same) reimposed a ban on implementation of Wisconsin’s voter ID law. The majority offered no rationale for the decision, but even one of the dissenting Justices, Samuel Alito, noted the proximity of elections and the lack of resolution of substantive complaints about the law as a plausible reason for putting it on hold.
There will be a tendency to conflate this highly temporary if significant ruling with yesterday’s ringing decision by a Texas district court judge striking down the Lone Star State’s voter ID law as an unconstitutional “poll tax.” Another item in the news this week, a GAO report determining that voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee palpably reduced voting by young and minority voters in 2012, will also seem relevant to the Supremes’ action. But there’s no reason to assume voter ID laws will not ultimately survive court scrutiny.
For now, in Wisconsin, though, it’s a pretty big deal. At TNR earlier this week, Claire Groden argued that the voter ID law might well save Scott Walker’s bacon, citing estimates that it could cost Democrats upwards of 200,000 or 300,000 votes (Walker won by 120,000 in 2010). And for Court-watchers, there’s the irony that twice in a single week the conservative Roberts Court has caused conservatives unexpected heartburn.