Prior to 2013, one of the ways in which the Voting Rights Act guarded against discriminatory voting laws and procedures was to require certain state and local governments to obtain prior approval (“preclearance”) from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing their election rules.
In February 2012, South Carolina sued seeking preclearance of its new voter ID law in time for the 2012 elections. We intervened in opposition to the South Carolina law on behalf of several registered South Carolina voters who did not have and could not easily obtain photo ID as required by the new law. Massive discovery took place on an expedited schedule, and a three-judge district court held a trial in August 2012 and heard oral argument in September of that same year.
On October 10, 2012, the court ruled that South Carolina had failed to carry its burden of showing that its voter ID law would not “have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account or race or color” or membership in a language minority group if implemented for the 2012 election, because of the short time remaining before the election. But the court also held that the voter ID law “neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color” or membership in a language minority group if implemented for subsequent elections. Accordingly, the voter ID law was not implemented this year but can be implemented in the future.