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LOS ANGELES-In the weeks before the November elections, lawyers are monitoring a flurry of expedited court rulings in cases challenging the constitutionality of new state laws that require voters to display photo identification at the polls. In the coming weeks, a ruling is expected from the highest state court in Missouri, where a trial judge recently found a voter identification law in that state to be unconstitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court has also taken up a case following a similar ruling in that state. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, moreover, is hearing arguments this month in a case challenging a voter identification law in Indiana, where a federal judge upheld it. And in Arizona, the 9th Circuit blocked enforcement of a new voter law after a federal judge had denied an injunction last month. Meanwhile, judges in at least three states have issued rulings against other changes to voter laws. “It’s a new development in the law, and the courts are trying to find a way to address something that really doesn’t fit neatly into any other precedents,” said James Scarantino, a solo practitioner in Albuquerque, N.M. He is representing the League of Women Voters and other nonprofit organizations in a voter ID case against the city clerk. The court rulings come as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Sept. 20 that would require voters in national elections to present photo identification beginning in 2008. In addition, the bill would require voters in national elections to prove they are U.S. citizens by 2010. Twenty states take action Since the contentious 2000 election, more than 20 states have passed laws requiring that voters present some form of identification at the polls. Supporters say the new requirements are designed to prevent voter fraud. But several activist groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the League of Women Voters have filed lawsuits to thwart enforcement of the laws. Barbara Burt, director of election reform programs at Common Cause, which is monitoring the legal changes, said requiring voters to present photo identification such as a driver’s license could have a negative impact on certain groups of people, such as the elderly. “Twelve to 15% of people don’t have a driver’s license,” Burt said. “Then, if you add proof of citizenship, it becomes totally unworkable.” Thor Hearne, a partner in the St. Louis office of Kansas City, Mo.-based Lathrop & Gage and national election counsel to the American Center for Voting Rights, which has intervened in several of the cases, said states increasingly are passing photo ID laws while courts grapple with their implementation. “No one is saying photo ID is wrong,” said Hearne, who was national election counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004. “It’s fine, but we need to provide a longer period of time. These are the kinds of details being worked out.” In two states, Georgia and Missouri, judges recently blocked new laws in those states from being enforced during the November elections. Both laws require voters to present a state-issued form of photo identification in order to vote at the polls. On Sept. 19, a judge in Fulton County Superior Court in Georgia granted an injunction against the law, which was passed this year. Lake v. Perdue, No. 2006CV119207 (Fulton Co., Ga., Super. Ct.). In that ruling, Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. found that the law violated the Georgia Constitution by imposing additional requirements on voters. “The judge decided you can’t put any further qualifications on that right,” said Jennifer Jordan, co-counsel at Marietta, Ga.’s The Barnes Law Group who represents the plaintiffs in the case. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office, which did not return calls seeking comment, has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court. The ruling follows three injunctions by U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy in a similar case in federal court. Common Cause/Georgia v. Billups, No. 4:05-cv-0201 (N.D. Ga.). In his most recent ruling, Murphy said that he found the voter identification law burdensome in certain elections because state officials had not effectively prepared for the law. “Under federal constitutional law, any statute that burdens the right to vote must be supported by compelling state interest that is real and not theoretical,” said Emmet Bondurant, a partner at Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore in Atlanta who represents Common Cause. Undue burdens In Missouri, a Cole County Circuit Court judge ruled on Sept. 14 that the state’s 2006 voter law requirements violated that state’s constitution by placing undue burdens on certain voters, such as women and the poor. The ruling came in two cases that are now consolidated before the Missouri Supreme Court. Jackson County v. State of Missouri, No. SC88038, and Weinschenk v. State of Missouri, No. SC88039. “He found it really affected a group of individuals in the community who weren’t in a position to have the wherewithal to obtain this kind of information,” said Burton Newman, a solo practitioner in St. Louis who represents several of the plaintiffs. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which held oral arguments earlier this month. Separately, several organizations filed a motion for preliminary injunction on Sept. 22 in a similar federal case. NAACP v. Carnahan, No. 06-4200 (W.D. Mo.). Jonathan Siegfried, a partner at New York-based LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae who represents the plaintiffs, said that the federal case is based on alleged violations of the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those claims were also at issue in other federal suits involving voter identification laws, he said. “The general constitutional principles, when you look at Georgia or Missouri, are the same: There is an undue burden placed upon the right to vote,” Siegfried said. In two states, Arizona and Indiana, federal judges have upheld new voter identification laws. But in Arizona, the ruling recently was reversed. In Arizona, a new law became effective following the passage of Proposition 200 in 2004, which requires voters to provide a government-issued photo ID or two pieces of nonphoto identification specified by law, such as utility bills and bank statements. Also, residents of the state must prove citizenship to register to vote. Three cases were consolidated under Gonzales v. State of Arizona, No. 2:06-01268 (D. Ariz.). They allege that the law creates an undue burden on specific groups of voters, namely Native Americans and Latinos who are unlikely to own a car or have their names on household bills. On Sept. 11, a federal judge overseeing those cases denied a preliminary injunction in a two-page order. David Rosenbaum, a partner at Osborn Maledon in Phoenix, who represents the plaintiffs in the lead case, appealed to the 9th Circuit seeking an emergency injunction order or stay. On Oct. 5, a 9th Circuit panel granted that injunction for the November elections. Meanwhile, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office plans to seek an emergency review from the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a press release issued by that office. “Besides the polling-place identification requirements, we have registration proof of citizenship requirements that are not at issue in any other state,” Rosenbaum said. Andrea Esquer, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, said, “We are defending the law that was adopted by the voters of Arizona and will continue to defend the law through the appeals process.” In Indiana, briefs have been filed before the 7th Circuit in two consolidated cases alleging that the state’s 2005 law, which requires photo identification at the polls, violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. A hearing is scheduled for later this month in William Crawford v. Todd Rokita, No. 06-2218 (7th Cir.). A federal judge denied a summary judgment motion in April citing lack of evidence proving the new law was a burden on some voters. “The thrust of her holding was that this photo identification law is a common sense, reasonable use of the state’s power to regulate elections and not a direct burden of the right to vote,” said Thomas Fisher, solicitor general for the state of Indiana. A difference in judges William Groth, partner at Fillenwarth, Dennerline, Groth & Towe in Indianapolis who represents the plaintiffs, said that the decision came down to a difference in federal judges. “There is no question that there’s a difference in approach taken by the Georgia federal district court and the judge here in Indianapolis,” he said. Scarantino, who brought his photo identification case against the Albuquerque city clerk, said that he dropped claims under the Voting Rights Act after federal judges in Georgia and Indiana ruled against them. He said he is suing under First Amendment violations and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution, over which the two judges split. Mark Shoesmith, assistant city attorney for the city of Albuquerque, said that won’t be enough. “The facts that have developed in discovery we think we are the same as what the court was looking at in the Indiana decision,” he said. In other states, lawsuits have been filed over new voter laws. Among the developments: A federal judge in Ohio granted an injunction on Sept. 8 against a new law that required training and specific disclosures from people working on voter registration. On Aug. 28, a judge in Florida blocked enforcement of a similar law based on constitutional grounds. In Washington, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction on Aug. 1 against a law that requires voters to provide their name and other information in order to match data in certain government databases. In Michigan, the state Legislature has asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of an advisory opinion issued by the state attorney general against a voter identification law. Other states are attempting to reform their voter laws. In Colorado, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, new bills amending the voting process were introduced. Many died or were not signed by governors in those states.

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