MADISON, Wisconsin — Civil rights advocates asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to reverse a decision upholding Wisconsin's voter photo identification law, arguing the case raises questions of national importance about limits on a state's ability to restrict voting.
The American Civil Liberties Union and allied groups argued in their filing that the Wisconsin case offers an "ideal vehicle" to settle the legal debate over voter ID laws.
They said 17 states have adopted voter identification laws since the high court upheld Indiana's law in 2008. They contend that arguments by supporters of such laws that they help prevent voter fraud is a pretext. The measures don't serve any legitimate state interest and curtail the rights of black and Hispanic voters who lack ID, opponents say. What's more, legal challenges moving back and forth between state and federal courts have created confusion, they argued.
"Unless this court acts now, the court likely will continue to be put in the untenable position of refereeing voter ID disputes on an emergency basis on the eve of elections every two years," the ACLU's attorneys argued. "Given the stakes for so many voters across the country, and the uncertainty among lower courts ... this court should grant (review)."
A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is defending the law, didn't immediately return an email message Wednesday evening.
Republican legislators passed Wisconsin's law in 2011. It requires all voters to show photo identification at the polls. Voters who lack photo IDs can obtain them at a state Division of Motor Vehicles office for free but must supply documents such as birth certificate that verify their identity.
The ACLU and its allies filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law in December 2011. The case ended up before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in October the law was valid.
The civil rights groups immediately won a stay from the Supreme Court preventing the law from taking effect ahead of the Nov. 4 election. The justices gave the groups 90 days to file a formal petition asking them to review the case. That window was set to close on Thursday.
The Supreme Court faces no deadlines for deciding whether to take a case and isn't expected to even consider the request before late winter. If the justices take the case, they almost certainly wouldn't hear it until the court's next term begins in October.