Mar 19, 2012

Wisconsin High Court's Ruling on Voter ID Cases Will Be Historic

Update: Supreme Court refuses to take up voter ID cases (April 16, 2012)

Soon, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear one or more voter ID cases that have halted implementation of the GOP voter obstruction project.

The resulting high court decision this Spring or Summer will be a historic moment in Wisconsin.

This one decision will determine if Wisconsin is a lawless, unconstitutional state; or a democracy where the rule of law and the rights of citizens guaranteed in the Wisconsin Constitution hold sway over nihilistic politics.

For the State of Wisconsin well protects the right of citizens to vote in the Wisconsin Constitution (Article III) against any legislative or executive fiat that would "cancel or substantially burden a constitutionally guaranteed sacred right," as Judge Richard Niess writes in his March 12, 2012 decision.

No political party or movement can declare the sacred rights of classes of Wisconsin citizens to cease to exist while this party remains in power and acts in its perceived self interest. Judicial case law dating back over a century recognizes the primacy of voting rights in Wisconsin. These points are not controversial.

Voting in the young republic -
George Caleb Bingham
Looked at from the perspective on the ground: No constitutionally qualified, duly registered voter can walk over to the voting rolls table to obtain a ballot for casting his or her vote and then be told he or she is no longer qualified to vote.

The law is as clear as the stakes are high.

A government that undermines the right to vote imperils its own legitimacy as a government 'by the people, for the people and especially of the people,' (Judge) Niess wrote. 'It sows the seeds for its own demise as a democratic institution' (Treleven, WSJ).
Undermining the right to vote would, one might believe, provoke outrage at the responsible political party—the Republican Party.

But as the Republican Party commissars are well aware, their efforts are aimed at a minority of Wisconsin citizens; and the GOP will side-step discussion of killing constitutional rights with comparisons of voting to renting a video and then call this coordinated, nationwide GOP voter suppression effort 'common sense.'

Most citizens will blithely go about their business, thinking, 'I have my license, why don't they have their's,' an undemocratic notion devoid of appreciation for the constitutional rights of all citizens.

This is Republican politics at its worst, preying on apathy and the ignorance of rights that—if we are honest—we note define the American populace in our depoliticized, anti-democratic political culture.

Most journalists will also neglect the legal Wisconsin tradition of the right to vote, though a simple phone call to any credible political scientist or law professor will reveal facts not to this moment widely reported. Wisconsin scholars are quite willing to talk; it's a Wisconsin Idea thing. [Truthfully, I'm surprised a petition blasting the Voter ID law has not made the rounds.]

One attorney this morning, said, "I don't think they [the four Republican justices] will vote to uphold the [voter ID] law. It would be too blatant a partisan display," speaking on background.

I work as an sworn election inspector for the City of Fitchburg and I have seen up close and personal the popular hostility to voting rights that exists even in my liberal, highly educated community. Stick a given person behind a voter registration table, give this person a little authority, and the resulting behavior might shock even social psychologists studying the capacity of citizens to deny the rights of their fellow citizens living in the same community. It's difficult for me, again in a personal digression, to see this behavior with anything less than disgust.

This is the political culture we live in.

The only mechanism protecting our rights is the rule of law and those citizens willing to uphold it.

If the four Republican Supreme Court justices decide to act as an underground political movement and vote to deny the rights of Wisconsin citizens, we will have reached a point of crisis in Wisconsin.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson will have no choice but to alert the citizenry that the rule of law no longer exists in Wisconsin, destroyed by the Republican Party, the institution of the Supreme Court already damned. Anything less than naming the perpetrators is acquiescence. One certainly could argue we have already reached this point.

Intellectual honesty and democratic values can still save the right to vote in Wisconsin; but this will require good-faith actors in journalism, the academy, the Republican Party, business and the Wisconsin citizenry to refuse to be silent anymore.

"The only cure for [political neurosis and fear] is a steady and unfrightened public opinion strong enough and expressive enough to show that respect for civil rights is also good politics in America," said Robert H. Jackson in 1939.

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