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Separate judicial rulings in Wisconsin and Texas on Oct. 9, 2014 gave cheer to opponents of state laws requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.
Here’s part of what the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, had to say in a statement:
"With less than ten days before early voting starts in Texas and Wisconsin, I am pleased with the judicial decisions yesterday striking down burdensome photo ID laws in those states."
Did the brief Supreme Court order "strike down" the Wisconsin statute?
The DNC leader was in a minority in using that terminology, we found in reviewing media reports and reactions from legal and political observers.
But the New York Times’ headline on its story may have influenced some -- and in fact a DNC spokesman pointed it out to us in providing backup for Wasserman Schultz’s claim.
"Courts Strike Down Voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas," the paper’s online headline declared Oct. 9, 2014.
The story beneath that headline, though, used "struck down" only when referring to the Texas ruling. Here’s what it said about Wisconsin: "The Supreme Court on Thursday evening stopped officials in Wisconsin from requiring voters there to provide photo identification before casting their ballots in the coming election."
There’s a significant difference between the rulings in the two states.
In Texas, a federal district court judge -- the lowest level in the federal system -- found that state’s ID law unconstitutional, writing that it intentionally discriminates against black and Hispanic voters.
The Wisconsin case is much further along: The action Wasserman Schultz reacted to was from the U.S. Supreme Court.
In April 2014, Federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman "struck down" Wisconsin’s law, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found it sound and cleared the way for its use in the Nov. 4, 2014 election. Several groups then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court in its Oct. 9 action did not take up the merits of the Wisconsin law’s constitutionality or even decide whether to take the case at all.
Instead, without comment from the majority in the 6-3 decision, it temporarily blocked the implementation of the law, perhaps in response to plaintiffs’ claims that it was too close to the Nov. 4, 2014 election to be properly implemented.
Underscoring the limited and temporary nature of the ruling, two justices who supported upholding Indiana’s voter ID law in a 2008 ruling -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy -- voted in the Wisconsin case to block the law for now.
The DNC told us there’s only a semantic difference between "struck down" and "blocked."
We heard otherwise.
"It’s not accurate to say it was ‘struck down,’ but it’s understandable" given the New York Times headline and other media coverage, said Daniel P. Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor and expert on election law.
Non-lawyers especially can be forgiven for using the term, he said.
"The Supreme Court did not ‘strike down’ the voter ID law," Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck told us. "It vacated the Seventh Circuit’s September 12th order staying the District Court’s injunction."
She added: "The September 12th order from the Seventh Circuit permitted Wisconsin to enforce the voter ID law in November. The Supreme Court did not take any action whatsoever as to the merits of the voter ID law." Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is exploring ways to reinstate the law before the November election.
We asked a lawyer for one of the groups that sought the stay to weigh in on this.
Larry Dupuis, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, said he wouldn’t use "struck down."
But he added that there is no technical legal definition of "struck down, "so I suppose someone could say the law was ‘struck down’ temporarily or for the November election."
The DNC told us Wasserman Schultz’s statement was "consistent with news accounts and had one goal: to communicate clearly to voters that the United State Supreme Court’s action meant that the Wisconsin photo ID law would not be applicable in this year’s election."
We tackled a somewhat similar claim when Gov. Scott Walker said the John Doe investigation into his campaign finances had been "resolved" after two judges ruled it was "over."
We rated that claim False, since it was not final and more court action lay ahead.
Indeed, the federal appeals court overturned the lower-court decision and sent it back to a Wisconsin court, where an earlier action halting it remains under appeal.
Wasserman Schultz said the Supreme Court struck down Wisconsin's photo ID election law.
The high court temporarily halted the law from going into effect but did not take any action on the viability of the law itself.
The ultimate fate of the law is yet to be determined.
We rate her claim False.
Democratic National Committee, press release, Oct. 10, 2014
Email interview with Michael Czin, national press secretary, DNC, Oct. 13, 2014
Email interview with Laurence J. Dupuis, legal director, American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, Oct. 13, 2014
New York Times, "Courts Strike Down Voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas," Oct. 9, 2014
Email interview with Dana Brueck, communications officer, Office of Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Oct. 13, 2014
Phone interview with Daniel P. Tokaji, professor of law, Ohio State University, Oct. 13, 2014
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker says probe into his campaign finances is ‘resolved,’" June 20, 2014
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "U.S. Supreme Court blocks Wisconsin voter ID law," Oct. 9, 2014
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