Michael Waldman | Brennan Center for Justice | Reader Supported News | October 23, 2014
lexis de Tocqueville famously observed in 1835, “Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.” That certainly describes the grand struggle over voting rights now unfolding in courtrooms across the country. And when it comes to who can vote and when, a clear message is hard to discern. In recent days, rulings, appeals and motions have pinballed around the system, with the U.S. Supreme Court answering emergency pleas, allowing some changes to take effect and temporarily blocking others, while key appeals head their way. The latest lurch: In a decision emailed out at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, the justices let Texas implement its controversial voter ID law, the nation’s strictest, just two days before early voting begins in the state.
Amid the confusion, an important new element has emerged. The breakthrough? Facts. Two powerful judicial opinions—one from a Texas trial judge, another from an esteemed appeals court jurist—and a landmark government study have shed new light on the costs and consequences of restrictive voting laws. They answer some key questions: Are these laws malevolent? (In Texas, at least, yes.) Do they provide a benefit that outweighs their cost? (No.) Do they suppress the vote? (Alarmingly, it seems, yes.) And can we prevent fraud without disenfranchising Americans? (Yes, absolutely.)
In a zone foggy with legal rhetoric, these three documents will—and should—live on beyond the 2014 election cycle. They might even help shape a new legal regime to protect voters while protecting against fraud. They’re worth a close read.