The League of Women Voters of South Carolina and Craig Debose, a South Carolina resident who lacks photo identification, intervened in South Carolina v. Holder to block South Carolina’s new, restrictive law requiring photo ID to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law represented the League and Mr. Debose with pro bono counsel at the law firms of Sullivan & Cromwell and Derfner Altman & Wilborn. Additional intervenor defendants included the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the Family Unit Inc. – a South Carolina based non-profit that helps South Carolina citizens register to vote – and various South Carolina residents who would be affected if the new law were to go into effect.
The League argued that the law would erect unnecessary barriers to voting and could disenfranchise thousands of minority voters. Thus, the new identification requirement would interfere with its mission to encourage civic participation through voting. Mr. Debose had made previous attempts over the span of several years to obtain a South Carolina photo ID, but was unable to do so. Mr. Debose argued that if the new law were to go into effect, he would not be able to vote.
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, changes to South Carolina’s election laws must be “pre-cleared” by the Department of Justice or a D.C federal court. South Carolina originally sought preclearance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on June 28, 2011. On December 23, 2011, DOJ announced that it would not preclear the law. On February 8, 2012 South Carolina challenged the DOJ’s ruling in federal district court. A complete list of the letters from South Carolina to the DOJ, from DOJ to South Carolina, and from the Brennan Center to the DOJ is available here.
On October 10, 2012, a three judge panel ruled there was not enough time left to implement the law for the 2012 general election. The law will be in effect for future elections, but the court clarified aspects of the law so that it “does not require a photo ID to vote.” Instead, South Carolinians can continue to use their non-photo voter registration card after 2012, so long as the voter states the reason for not having obtained a photo ID.
South Carolina’s photo ID law is just one of many restrictive laws passed in the states since the beginning of the 2011 legislative session. For more information on these laws, see the Brennan Center report Voting Law Changes in 2012.
Press Release for South Carolina v. Holder decision available here.