Closing arguments Monday about South Carolinas voter ID law will cap an extraordinary case that already has seen charges of racism directed at the laws author as well as federal judges open frustration over state officials changing stances on how they would enact the law.
Opponents of the embattled law, which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blocked last year under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, will challenge the credibility of its chief author, state Rep. Allan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach.
Lawyers for groups opposed to the voter ID law, including civil rights groups, will say Clemmons took false credit for its reasonable impediment clause, which allows voters to cast ballots if they have reasonable reasons for not having photo identification.
Those lawyers also will say Clemmons misrepresented his relationship with a man who sent him an email about the law that the Myrtle Beach Republican acknowledged under oath last month was racist. Clemmons responded to that email, Amen ... thank you for your support.
The attorneys trying to kill the law also will argue that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and Marci Andino, executive director of the State Election Commission, lack the legal authority to implement the voter ID law in ways that contradict the laws text or other relevant state laws.
Lawyers for South Carolina will respond that the voter ID law is aimed at preventing election fraud. They will point to key Supreme Court rulings that states dont need to show the existence of fraud in order to take steps against it.
The states attorneys also will argue that state officials plans to enact the law arent contradictory or at variance with its provisions.
No dispute or no effect?
At issue under the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority access to the ballot box, is whether the S.C. laws requirement that voters possess one of five forms of photo identification would have a disproportionately harmful impact on African-Americans. Of several state voter ID laws under legal scrutiny, the S.C. case is among the most closely watched because of the states troubled history of race relations.
The case also could have national implications because it is expected to go before the U.S. Supreme Court eventually.
Garrard Beeney, lead attorney for the civil rights groups and individual South Carolinians who claim the law would hurt them, said trial testimony last month showed minority voters would feel the brunt of it. They are poorer as a group and would have more difficulty getting the photo IDs, he said.
There really is no dispute from anyone at this trial that blacks are less likely than whites to have the new kinds of ID voters would have to have, Beeney said Friday.
Chris Bartolomucci, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing the state, disputed that claim.
The bottom line on (the laws) effect is that its not going to prevent any lawful voter from voting, whether white or black, Bartolomucci said.
Supreme Court to decide issue?
President Barack Obamas 2008 election prompted record turnout by black voters.
Since then, 34 state legislatures, most with Republican majorities, have taken up bills imposing stricter voter ID requirements, with 16 states passing laws. The laws vary widely. Only some of the states are among the 16 that fall wholly or partly under the Voting Rights Act, which requires the Justice Department to approve all election changes in states with histories of discriminating against minorities.