WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states may require voters to present photo identification before voting, opening the way for wider adoption of a measure that Republicans say combats fraud and Democrats say discourages voting among the elderly and the poor.
The court ruled 6-3 that the requirements enacted by Indiana's legislature were not enough of a burden to violate the Constitution. Because the law, which requires specific government-issued identification such as driver's licenses or passports, is generally regarded as the nation's strictest such measure, the ruling bodes well for other states that require photo ID and for states that are considering doing so.
The widely awaited election-year case was the most sharply partisan voting rights issue the court has considered since Bush vs. Gore decided the 2000 presidential election. But the divisive nature of the 2000 decision was diminished, as the usually liberal Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the main opinion and said the state law is a reasonable reaction to the threat of voter fraud.
"The application of the statute to the vast majority of Indiana voters is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process," he wrote. His opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, who is normally on the right, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often considered a swing vote.
The opinion left open the possibility that voters who had proof that they were adversely affected by such laws could petition the courts, but made it clear that it would be difficult for them to prevail.
Three conservative justices — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — agreed with the outcome but would have closed the door more tightly against future challenges.
Three liberal justices — David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — dissented. "Without a shred of evidence that in-person voter impersonation is a problem in the state, much less a crisis, Indiana has adopted one of the most restrictive photo identification requirements in the country," Souter wrote.