In heavily Democratic Philadelphia, 18 percent of registered voters are without a current driver’s license, and nationwide, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 25 percent of African-Americans and 18 percent of all Americans over 65 lack the kind of government-issued ID that will let them vote under the new, restrictive state laws.
Getting such a license, especially for a voter missing an in-state birth certificate, can be a time-consuming process. In Pennsylvania, Republican House Majority Speaker Mike Turzai has made no secret of the partisan nature of the state’s voter ID photo law. It will, he told a Republican gathering in June, “allow Governor Romney to win the state.”
This kind of calculation is exactly what President Regan and Justice Burger opposed. Reagan made his views clear in 1982 when he signed into law a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Key to that act is its section two, which forbids any “standard, practice, or procedure” that abridges the right to vote on account of race or color. In 1982, section two was amended in a way that speaks directly to Pennsylvania today. A forbidden “standard, practice, or procedure” no longer had to be enacted with an invidious racial purpose. It was enough for it to deny “equal opportunity” to minority voters.
As he signed the strengthened Voting Rights Act with Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Dole close by, Reagan made a point of giving the new law his full endorsement: “As I’ve said before, the right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.” His observation differs radically from the tone of Mr. Turzai’s remarks on the impact of Pennsylvania’s voter ID laws.
The quieter challenge Chief Justice Burger offers to Pennsylvania’s voter ID photo law is most visible in the opinion he wrote in 1971 for a unanimous Supreme Court in the case of Griggs v. Duke Power Company. The case provided an early test of the employment provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.