Wisconsin voter ID ruling could cost state more than $1 million

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Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

MADISON--State taxpayers may have to pay $1 million or more to the American Civil Liberties Unions and other plaintiffs who successfully sued over the state's voter ID law.

Because those challenging the voter ID law won a ruling in federal court that the measure violates voters' civil rights under the Voting Rights Act, they are entitled to their fees and court costs.

“I think it's likely to go north of a million — the initial request. Who knows how it will shake out,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee, who struck down the law Tuesday, will have the final say on how much the plaintiffs will get.

John Ulin, an attorney in the Los Angeles office of Arnold & Porter who is involved in the case, said in a conference call with reporters the amount would be “substantial.”

The amount could rise — or be wiped out — depending on how the case proceeds on appeal.

In a Tuesday's ruling, Adelman struck down Wisconsin's voter ID law, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution by putting an unfair burden on the right to vote. Adelman, a former Democratic state senator, ruled it also violated the Voting Rights Act because the voter ID requirement fell harder on minorities, who are less likely to have photo IDs and documents such as birth certificates that are necessary to get them.

Adelman's ruling dealt with two separate cases challenging the law. Each case has multiple plaintiffs and numerous attorneys, meaning the legal costs could be high.

Among those suing are the national and state ACLU, Cross Lutheran Church, labor unions and the Wisconsin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. The Advancement Project, a civil-rights group based in Washington, D.C., also helped with the legal work.

The groups could ask to recover their legal costs now or wait to see what happens with state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's promise to take the case to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Ulin said it was premature to decide when to ask for the funds.

Katherine Culliton-González of the Advancement Project said Adelman's ruling showed that Wisconsin's continued pursuit of the voter ID law was a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) said he was confident the voter ID requirement would be reinstated on appeal and state taxpayers wouldn't be out any money.

“Despite the unions' expenditure of millions to put the Capitol under siege in the last few years, I don't believe they'll see one thin dime for the reasonable photo ID law,” he said.

Even before Adelman's ruling, the voter ID law had been struck down by a state judge. The state Supreme Court is reviewing that decision, as well as another challenge to the law.

For the law to be reinstated, the state would need to overcome all legal challenges, both in state and federal court.

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