Win some, lose some: Supreme Court backs states over voter ID and executions, but favors federal laws in business-related cases.

Author:Savage, David G.

The states had a mixed record in the Supreme Court this year, as big wins for a new voter identification law and the use of lethal injections in executions were balanced by a growing trend in favor of federal preemption of state laws.

These days, defenders of state laws have less to fear from traditional lawsuits raising constitutional claims. The court, led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., has made clear it will cast a skeptical eye on broad claims that a state law is unconstitutional because it might infringe the rights of some people.

At the same time, state officials have more reason to worry when business leaders complain that a state measure conflicts with federal law. Those claims tend to win a sympathetic hearing in the Roberts Court.

Close watchers of the court say they are struck by the dueling trends. "We had a generally good term" in constitutional cases, says Dan Schweitzer, the Supreme Court counsel for the National Association of Attorneys General, "but we had a bad term on preemption."


Cases testing state laws arise in two different ways, and, of late, reach quite contrasting results. In one set of cases, plaintiffs go to court alleging a state law is unconstitutional. For example, some Democratic Party activists sued Indiana in 2005 to challenge its new requirement that registered voters show government-issued identification with a photo before casting a ballot. They alleged the new law was a partisan-motivated measure to deter some poor, elderly and minority residents from voting, and argued it should be struck down as unconstitutional.


The Supreme Court upheld the law by a 6-3 decision in Crawford v. Marion County, saying the challengers failed to prove their case. The vast majority of Indianans have a photo ID, the court said, and those residents who do not can vote by mail or obtain an ID free from the county. Moreover, the challengers failed to cite a single voter who was denied the right to vote because of the requirement.

The author of the court's opinion came as a surprise to some. Justice John Paul Stevens usually agrees with the court's liberal bloc, but the 88-year old native of Chicago grew up there at a time when tales of phantom votes were commonplace. The states have "a valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process," he said.

The court's skepticism toward such lawsuits also was on display in the ruling on Baze v...

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