Appeals court gives temporary okay to Wisconsin voter ID law

CHICAGO Fri Sep 12, 2014 6:44pm EDT

(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court in Chicago said on Friday that Wisconsin can implement its 2012 law requiring voters to present photo identification at the ballot box, allowing the state to put the new rules into effect at the general election in November.

The rush order from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - which heard arguments for and against the law earlier on Friday - is temporary while the court works on its definitive ruling on the issue.

At the hearing on Friday, Wisconsin had asked a three-judge panel - all of them appointed by Republican administrations - to urgently lift a lower court's injunction against the voter ID law.

Similar voter ID rules have become a political and racial flashpoint across the United States.

A federal district court in Wisconsin ruled in April the law was unconstitutional, even though it was upheld in a separate ruling by the state's Supreme Court. Wisconsin's attorney general appealed the district court ruling to the 7th Circuit.

"The panel has concluded that the state's probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court," the appeals court order said.

The judges who are still weighing the appeal are Frank Easterbrook, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, and Diane Sykes and John Daniel Tinder, who were both appointed by President George W. Bush.

In their order on Friday the three judges noted that Wisconsin has put into place new procedures that make it easier for people to obtain birth certificates or other documents they need to acquire free state identification cards.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have challenged the law, saying that it discriminates against the poor and minorities, who are less likely than white voters to have photo IDs and the underlying documents needed to obtain such IDs.

Wisconsin and other states have argued they need such rules to prevent voter fraud.

"Today's decision is a victory for common sense, fair elections, and the right of every eligible voter to cast a vote that will count," Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in a statement.

"The state has not demonstrated it is prepared to make this new ID scheme work. The new procedures were presented at the last second," Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director, said in a statement.