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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Belatedly, federal Judge Richard Posner has arrived at the obvious conclusion about voter identification laws: They are enacted as a barrier to the franchise, an un-American tactic hatched by conservatives to prevent certain people from voting. It’s too bad that his epiphany came so late.

Posner is one of the nation’s most respected conservative jurists. As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, he might have led the nation’s highest court to reject new restrictions around voting. Instead, in 2007, Posner wrote the majority opinion that upheld Indiana’s stringent law, setting the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to reason that it did no harm to an unfettered franchise.

That was quite wrong, as Posner now acknowledges. While he disavowed his earlier endorsement of the law in a new book, Reflections of Judging, he went further in a video interview earlier this month with The Huffington Post, saying that the dissenting view was the right one.

In that dissent, the late Judge Terence Evans wrote: “Let’s not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.” That about sums it up.

Still, I see in Posner’s late-arriving epiphany occasion for hope that debates about obstacles to voting, which have proliferated in states controlled by Republicans, will now proceed with more intellectual honesty. Let’s give up the preposterous justification that the barrage of new restrictions around the franchise — regulations that include limits on early voting — are intended to prevent voter fraud.

Recently, the consequences of those restrictions have been clear in Texas, which was among the states that rolled out new measures after the U.S. Supreme Court decimated the Voting Rights Act earlier this year. (Posner has had interesting comments about that decision too, dismissing its intellectual and legal foundations as non-existent. “The opinion rests on air,” he wrote.)

Eighty-four-year-old Dorothy Card, a Texas resident, has voted for six decades, but she stopped driving 15 years ago and doesn’t have a driver’s license, the ID preferred in voter-suppression states. By late last month, she had tried three times to obtain an ID that would allow her to vote in November elections, according to Think Progress, a left-leaning political blog. Her daughter said she would keep trying but with little expectation of success since each attempt required a different set of documents.