February 03, 2008

Can the Supreme Court Be Non-Partisan?

James Baker III and Jimmy Carter have an oped in the NYTimes today about the upcoming Voter ID decision from the Supreme Court.

In 2005, we led a bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform and concluded that both parties’ concerns were legitimate — a free and fair election requires both ballot security and full access to voting. We offered a proposal to bridge the partisan divide by suggesting a uniform voter photo ID, based on the federal Real ID Act of 2005, to be phased in over five years. To help with the transition, states would provide free voter photo ID cards for eligible citizens; mobile units would be sent out to provide the IDs and register voters. (Of the 21 members of the commission, only three dissented on the requirement for an ID.)

As they note, the Voter ID case has now come before the Supreme Court and this body could bring clarity that honors both goals: fair elections free from fraud and elections where all potential voters are provided the tools to easily vote - that is: no disenfranchisement. So what would they like to see the Court do?

We hope the court will approach the challenges posed by the Indiana law in a bipartisan or nonpartisan way. As we stated in our 2005 report, voter ID laws are not a problem in and of themselves. Rather, the current crop of laws are not being phased in gradually and in a fair manner that would increase — not reduce — voter participation. The recent decision by the Department of Homeland Security to delay putting in place the Real ID Act for at least five years suggests that states should move to photo ID requirements gradually and should do more to ensure that free photo IDs are easily available.

The Supreme Court faces a difficult and important decision. If the justices divide along partisan lines, as lower courts have, they would add to the political polarization in the country. We hope that they will find a nonpartisan path that combines both legitimate concerns — ballot security and full access to voting — and underscores the importance of applying these laws in a fair and gradual way. It is also important to remember that our commission’s report addressed other pressing election concerns. There is much more that Congress and state legislatures need to do to improve the electoral process and restore confidence in our democracy. We have outlined 87 such steps in our commission report.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court can lead the way on the voter ID issue. It has the opportunity to inspire the states, our national leaders and the entire country to bridge the partisan divide on a matter that is important to our democracy. It can support voter ID laws that make it easy to vote but tough to cheat.

My bet is the Bush-Roberts Court will absolutely make things worse and side with the GOP in their goal of actively disenfranchising voters. If that is so, it will make Baker and Carter look naive believing that any piece of the current government under the control of the e-Coli Conservatives care about doing the right things for the country. I sure wish I was proven wrong on this front, but it's hard to see how the conservatives with their will to power will suddenly become non-partisan in such a critical case.

Posted by Mary at February 3, 2008 11:23 AM | Law/Justice | Technorati links |

Have you read "The Nine" by Jeffrey Toobin? Apparently it's possible for the Supreme Court to be non-partisan, or at least it could be when Sandra Day O'Conner was still a member. Don't know about now.

Posted by: Flo at February 7, 2008 01:34 PM