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Kohls v. Martin (Amicus Brief)

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief arguing Arkansas’ restrictive photo ID law violated the state constitution and must be struck down by the state’s supreme court.

Published: August 11, 2014

On April 2, 2013, the Arkansas state legislature passed a law requiring voters to provide limited forms of photo identification in order to vote. Numerous empirical studies have shown that voter ID laws provide a barrier to participation because many Americans do not have the necessary identification. An estimated 11 percent of Americans do not have access to the types of ID required by Arkansas’ new law, and thus are disenfranchised by photo ID laws such as this one.

The Arkansas law was challenged in state court on April 16, 2014 by Arkansas voters lacking the requisite forms of ID to vote, in a case captioned Kohls v. Martin. The complaint alleged that the Arkansas photo ID bill violates the Arkansas Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Law Center represent the voters.

On May 23, 2014, the Sixth Division Circuit Court of Pulaski County ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the photo ID law violates Article 3, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution by imposing an additional voting qualification not provided for by the state constitution. The judge issued a preliminary injunction restraining the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners from implementing the law. However, the judge stayed his own ruling pending review by the state supreme court.

The state appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

On August 11, 2014, the Brennan Center and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, along with Cullen & Company, filed an amicus curiae brief to the Arkansas Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs, written on behalf of four Arkansas academics specializing in Arkansas history, political science, and constitutional law.

The Brennan Center’s amicus brief makes three core arguments:

  1. The Arkansas constitution clearly guarantees the right to vote for all eligible citizens and explicitly prohibits the state legislature from burdening that right. The brief explores Arkansas’ long history of zealously limiting interference with its citizens’ fundamental right to vote.
  2. Numerous social science studies show harsh photo ID laws like Arkansas’ raise the cost of voting, drive down voter participation, and disproportionately exclude low-income and other voters from the electoral process. Brennan Center research found 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo ID, and those earning $35,000 per year or less were twice as likely to lack ID. Arkansas ranks 47th in the country in terms of average median income.
  3. These costs are being imposed to combat the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voter impersonation fraud. In a 2003 comprehensive study, Rutgers University Political Science Professor Lorraine Minnite found this type of fraud to be “very rare.” In tracking credible instances of voter fraud from 2000 through 2014, Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola University Law School, found only 31 such instances nationwide, with none of those instances occurring in Arkansas.

On October 15, 2014, the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the photo ID law is unconstitutional on its face. The court held that the law creates an additional voter qualification, and thus unlawfully attempts to alter the requirements listed under Article 3, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution. 

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