Supreme Court building, Washington, DC. Photo by Callen Harty.
Yesterday one of my conservative friends expressed anger–perhaps even outrage–that the United States Supreme Court would dare to overturn the will of the people of Wisconsin by putting a halt to the new voter ID law for the upcoming November election. He asked how they could dare to overturn something that the people of Wisconsin voted into law. I was appalled at his lack of understanding.
Let me start by saying that I believe that the law is a (bad) solution to a non-existent problem and I do believe it would disenfranchise voters. I feel that instead of passing laws that restrict voting the government should be doing everything in its power to make it easier for people to vote. Democracy works best when people are actively and deeply involved in it. I understand that some people have bought into the notion that a person needs an ID to cash a check, get a loan, use a credit card if it’s over a certain amount, rent a car, get student or senior discounts, etc., so why shouldn’t they need to have one to cast a vote. I get that it sounds like it makes sense and does not sound like much of a burden. However, the reality is not that easy. According to several recent articles (including one by Ruth Coniff on The Progressive website on October 9 and one by Liz Kennedy on October 10 at the Huffington Post) 300,000 eligible Wisconsin voters do not have the proper identification required by the new law. That is a lot of people to keep away from the polls, especially given that Scott Walker won the recall election by only 171,105 votes and his first election for governor by only 124,638 votes (Wikipedia).
In addition, Wisconsin’s law requires a photo ID. If the new law were in effect for the upcoming election that would mean that someone who has a birth certificate and/or other identifying documents, but does not have a driver’s license, state-issued identification card, or a current student ID (along with proof of enrollment) may not be able to vote. Those needing to get an ID have seen Department of Motor Vehicles hours cut and other impediments put in the way of getting the necessary identification. It seems clear that the Republican legislators and Governor Scott Walker are doing their best to keep people from voting rather than encouraging it.
My friend would disagree with my assessment about voter ID. He has been convinced by Fox News and other conservative sources that there is widespread voter fraud and that thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants are voting in our elections when they are not citizens and have no right to do so. He actually brought that up as one of the reasons why we need voter ID without, of course, citing his source for such a claim.
Nearly as irritating to me as the racist take on immigrants (he specifically mentioned the Mexican ones as being the issue in American elections) was his general ignorance not only of the specific issue but of basic civics, things that he should have learned in high school. First, I had to explain to him that the people of Wisconsin did not vote on voter ID. I told him it was the Legislature that passed the law that Walker signed. He said something about liberal activist judges undoing laws that are rightfully passed. I had to remind him that the U. S. Supreme Court is a conservative court, that there are four liberal justices and five conservative justices, but that even then the vote on temporarily halting Wisconsin’s voter ID law was 6-3. Further I had to tell him that they didn’t overturn the law–they may still decide to uphold it or overturn it down the road–but simply put a temporary hold on the law taking effect due to the confusion that would ensue by instituting the new law with only a month to go before the election.
He repeated that the court should have no right to do that or decide later on that the law should be tossed out. I then had to explain to him that it is the Supreme Court’s job to decide whether any law, whether passed by lawmakers or voted on by the people, is constitutional. I reminded him that it is part of our system of checks and balances. Otherwise Congress and State Legislatures could pass any bill they wanted without regard to its constitutionality.
After that he turned his attention to the age of the justices stating that they should all have a mandatory retirement age. I responded that I would love to see younger justices who might not be as conservative as the current group, but that I would certainly hate to think that when I get to be 89 or 90 years old (or any age between now and when I die) that people would no longer allow me to voice an opinion, work a job, or do other things simply because of my age rather than my capability. My friend is older than me, by the way. He said he thought the justices should be voted into office and shouldn’t have life terms. I suggested that if they were voted into office then that would likely lead to decisions based on whether they could get voted back into office rather than whether it was the right decision. With no limit on their terms and no elections to stay in office they ideally remain an independent judiciary. The one thing he said that I agreed with was that they were not independent. I concurred, stating that clearly they can be classified as liberal or conservative, so they are going to make decisions based on their personal opinions and interpretations of the Constitution, but at least they would still not feel compelled to make a decision in order to stay in office.
I really don’t mind if someone disagrees with my political opinions. I often welcome conversation around such things. But I must admit it bothers me when that disagreement comes out of ignorance. It is not just conservatives who do this, either. I have seen many liberal friends repeat things from liberal sources without objectively reading the source material. If you are going to argue a political point-of-view there should be something more to back it up than opinions, feelings, or regurgitated talking points. My friend has the right to believe that we should have voter ID, and I have the right to disagree with him, but he really should understand the role of the Supreme Court in defending the Constitution of the country he professes to love so dearly. He should understand how his government functions before he gets angry about the way it is functioning at the moment.